You wouldn't think the casual confines of the World Cafe Live could cause any trepidation for someone who is double musical royalty. But when Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis and onetime wife of Michael Jackson, took the stage at the Walnut Street club Monday night, she was tight as a crossbow. It was only after she and her band worked through "So Long," a swampy jump with Doug Pettibone's mandolin discordantly riffing against the tide, and the crowd began to cheer, that you could see relief flood Presley's face. "It's been seven years," she said. "You have to give me a minute. I have to get my stage legs back."
On the first stop of her national tour, Presley moved quickly and with mounting confidence through the songs on her new T-Bone Burnett-produced album, Storm & Grace. After two pop-oriented CDs, Presley has returned from a long layoff with a rootsy, atmospheric record that seems to emanate more from Baton Rouge than her native Memphis. She delivered a moody midtempo set, her deep, smoky voice favoring emotion over precision. Most of the material from Storm & Grace didn't extend her beyond a single octave. Sheathed in black, she swayed in place to the music, at times slapping the world's smallest tambourine against her hip. Most of her backing band, lead by guitarist/husband Michael Lockwood, were festooned in towering black Mad Hatter chapeaus. They looked like they were on their way to a party for Boot Hill morticians. Presley handled the slow material with languid ease, especially the aptly titled ballad "Weary" and the Wilco-like plaint "Soften the Blows." But she also got cooking on "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" with its smoldering groove, and on a surprisingly raucous "Un-Break" on which Presley broke out some mallets to pound on the tom-toms. For an encore, the 44-year-old singer revisited her first single, "Lights Out" from 2003, giving it a countrified accent. Vocally and physically, it was the most energetic and liberated moment of the evening for Presley. Guess she got her stage legs back after all.