”Oh, good morning,” Elizabeth Cook said as she hit the stage shortly after 9 p.m, May 16.
It was, in fact, well into a Wednesday evening, or as working musicians call it, “daybreak,” when Cook launched immediately into “El Camino,” one of her most popular numbers – one that finds her hammered and having sex in a car with a mullet-sporting, drink-spiking creep. It was a singalong, laugh-out-loud opening moment that set the tone for what followed.
Over the 80-minute set, Cook mostly eschewed heartrending numbers like “I’m Not Lisa” and instead sung of an ex-husband who preferred beer cans to her can on “Yes to Booty;” the alcohol-fueled atmosphere she grew up around on “Stanley By God Terry;” recovery on “Methadone Blues;” and resilience on “Sometimes It Takes Balls to be a Woman.”
Cook was under the weather – “It’s Ricola:30,” she said as she popped a lozenge a couple of songs in – but her voice, a mixture of Stevie Nicks’ fragility and Dolly Parton’s power, didn’t betray it.
Accompanying herself on acoustic and electric guitars, Cook served up an aural dish of covers (Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”), songs from her discography (“Straight Jacket Love”) and as-yet unrecorded originals (“Half Hanged Mary”) that she read from a notebook on a music stand.
She needed to practice them because uptight record producers “hate it when you go into the studio and don’t know the songs,” Cook said.
Walked on and off stage by a burly assistant, Cook sat cross-legged on a high chair at the front a stage that resembled a living room with a floor lamp, a couple of tables and decorative feathers in a bottle adding to the homey feel. She was quick-witted as she batted away a fan’s unseemly comment about her looks by talking about the hot climate inside Newark’s Thirty One West and noting the rural atmosphere surrounding the city.
“Y’all grow some shit,” she said.
Between songs, there were stories about drunken escapades with Todd Snider, deaths in the family, divorces, trips to rehab, banter with David Letterman and fans who comment about her SiriusXM radio program “Apron Strings.” Listeners either want her to talk more or talk less, or drop more or fewer F-bombs, she said as she tuned.
Though she stuck mostly to the humorous pages of her songbook, Cook occasionally looked inside herself, such as on “These Days,” which she described as being about a sex-drugs-and-rock ‘n’ roll bender that nearly killed her before it ended two weeks ago.
“These days are one long night,” she wailed, head back, fingers picking the guitar strings, “I hear my momma calling out my name.”
When the encore rolled around, Cook, who put on the best show of her three most-recent Central Ohio appearances, again mentioned feeling less than perfect before paying tribute to her late fellow Floridian Tom Petty with a moving take on “Room at the Top.”