At one point during Lucero’s recent show at the Ottobar in Baltimore, MD, lead singer/guitarist Ben Nichols commented how tired they all were as they had driven up from Nashville. But "tired" was the last adjective anyone would use for this Lucero show. They went on to play a hard 90 minutes, doing what they do best, tearing up the floorboards and shaking the rafters.
With them this night was pedal steel player Tom Beam and accordion/keyboard player Rick Steff. Steff and Beam backed up Nichols on his recent solo record, The Last Pale Light in the West. “We normally get one or the other so it’s cool to have both of them tonight,” said Nichols.
Beam's interaction with the band, especially Nichols, was great to watch because it's obvious they all have a great time together. During my interview with Nichols back in November, he commented how every member of Lucero has the Lucero insignia tattoo, including Beam.
The full band played a majority of the time but Nichols came out towards the end for a set of his songs from The Last Pale Light with Beam and Steff. They played two new songs, one with the full band and one during Nichols' solo set. Of the two, I can't say I liked the full band piece as much the pared down presentation. While I give props to Lucero for covering an Irishman as bad ass as Phil Lynott, I've never been a big fan of a lot of his music so a “rip off of Thin Lizzy,” as Nichols called the new full band song, fell sort of in the same "not so much" category.
But the other new song was beautiful. Played by Nichols during his five to eight song solo set with Beam and Steff backing, it's one of those great songs of longing and loneliness that Nichols seems to pen so well. “We did this only once before, in Nashville,” said Nichols. Group consensus was that it's called “The Other Side."
(By the way, if you have not purchased The Last Pale Light yet, I highly recommend it. It's this lush compilation that's deceptive in its structural simplicity. There's no fancy guitar wizardry or complex Dylan-esque lyrics that describe its inspiration, Cormac McCarthy's novel, Blood Meridian, it's a set of seven songs about characters in the book using many of the exact phrases and words that McCarthy wrote. These lyrics, paired with keyboard, accordian, acoustic and steel pedal guitar, take a story filled with, quoting Nichols, "gnarly violence," and make them into seven songs of calming and blinding, but somber, beauty. Toadvine is one of these, which Nichols said he wrote in his bedroom. "It's a hard song to sing at a rock show," he said.
Picking it back up with the sure-to-please-the-crowd number, “All Sewn Up,” you couldn't help but come back up with them. A rollicking ball of punkabilly, the band tore into it with vigor. At one point, it was a case of dueling pianos with Beam and Steff (on keyboards), and wound up an all-out musicial brawl.
This is a band that knows its audience came to see them, all sewn up with bad tattoos in full, and no amount of tired was going to stop that. Most of the night, they were taking requests from the audience in addition to their regular set list. “You don’t realize this is a finely timed machine up here, down to a science,” said Nichols as he wore a wry grin and tapped a non-existent watch.
Covers included Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, a punked-version of Dirty Old Town by The Pogues, Kiss the Bottle by Jawbreaker, and possibly a Charlie Daniels song (or maybe it was just a song that sounded like a Charlie Daniels song, none of us could tell...)
As the band filed back out for the encore, lead guitarist Brian Venable took a seat behind drummer Roy Barry's drum kit and started to play...
...and soon the rest of the band started to follow. Barry decided fair was fair, and picked up Venable's guitar. “He’s been doing this for 11 years and this is the first time he’s been able to do this,” said Nichols of Barry switching instruments.
In the end, everyone was exhausted, the band, the audience, the bartenders...but it was that happy sort of exhausted one gets at the end of a Lucero show. You never know what you'll see or what you'll get at one of their shows, but dog-tired or not, Lucero is a band that makes sure you walk away from it a convert. A Lucero show, my friends, defines what makes a live show fun.
-All Sewn Up-Lucero/Purchase
(Lucero is currently out on tour throughout the country (see dates here). Ben Nichols will be opening for The Pogues (!!) at their sold out shows here in Washington, DC on March 17 and 18. If you're heading to SXSW, they're playing, well, all over the place. Check the SXSW schedule for details.)