HEADLINES

Live Review: Lucero in Indianapolis at The Vogue

Lucero

Memphis rock and roll underdog heroes Lucero rolled into Indianapolis on Thursday for the first night of a new blitz of tour dates. Such a night is nothing new for the band of legitimate road warriors, a collective who have played upwards of 200 shows a year since their inaugural set back way back in 1998. Lucero has a song called “Last Night in Town” from their 2005 album Nobody’s Darlings that perfectly captures both how comfortably the members of the band wear the road warrior label and what kind of atmosphere to expect from a Lucero show:

“Ain’t in the mood to watch no one cry / Tonight its whiskey, so buy another round / Drink it up boys, it’s my last night in town…It’s too late to turn back now, oh / In the morning it’s the wide open road / Take it far enough it’ll bring you back home.”

Eternally categorized as cowpunk or country-punk, no one would be miles off base by describing Lucero’s sound to an uninitiated friend by using such a simple classification. That sound, after all, is a major draw of Lucero’s passionate, loyal fans who consistently fill whatever grimy club the band is playing in (The Vogue on this night) and shout favorite songs that haven’t regularly appeared on a given night’s set list in years. At any Lucero show, you’re going to get the healthiest dose of barn-burning rock and roll, country grit and punk energy you could ask for. But Lucero is staggeringly far from a band of one trick ponies.

Lucero is one of those bands with die-hard fans who consider themselves friends with the band, and the frontman Ben Nichols (vocals, guitar) and all the guys in Lucero (Brian Venable on guitar, Roy Berry on drums, John C. Stubblefield on bass, Rick Steff on piano, organ and accordion) openly welcome such a rapport. Even though true friends will tell you your flaws as well as your strengths, you’d be hard-pressed to find fans of Lucero criticizing any aspect of the band’s work, live show, or catalog. There’s no dishonesty, fragility, or fear involved; it’s just the honest-to-God truth of average rock and roll fans falling in love with the sound and presence of average rock and roll guys with heart, energy and killer songs.

Since 2006’s Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, Lucero has notably jumped even more head over heels in love with their hometown of Memphis and its unparalleled history of great music. On 2009’s excellent 1372 Overton Park (named for the Memphis loft where the band members resided) and this year’s Women and Work, the band known as country punks have added a great deal of brass (revered Memphis players Jim Spake (saxophone) and Scott Thompson (trumpet)) and a heart-on-tattooed-sleeve adoration of Memphis institutions Sun Records and Stax Records. Steff, an integral addition to the band after Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers, has played on more than 150 records, including with Hank Williams Jr. and Cat Power in her Memphis Rhythm Band (with Spake and Thompson) for her 2006 masterpiece, The Greatest. Needless to say, Lucero’s sound has more layers now than back in the early days of which Nichols describes the band as “flying drunk going a hundred miles an hour.”

If you’ve ever seen a Lucero show, you’re likely a fan by now. If you’ve seen a few, you’re a die-hard Lucero fan for life. The band doesn’t try to hide or deceive anybody. They’re freewheeling, fun-loving Southern guys who love rock and roll, laughing, women and whiskey, and they’re as hardworking of a band as you’ll find. Nichols is the voice (of the 23 songs the band tore through in Indy, Ben and his endearing gravel and whiskey pipes commanded the lone microphone for the entirety of 22 of them. The magnificently soulful Women and Work closer and set finale, “Go Easy,” found Steff using his startlingly pretty baritone to fill the noticeable void of the rich, gospel background vocals that bring immense life to the song on record.) and the charismatic center of Lucero. The beloved lyrics of all Nichols’ relatable songs about hell-raisers, underdogs, the brokenhearted, the down-and-out, the mournful and the striving are all his, and his lovably ragged voice brings them all to heartfelt life.

Until you see Lucero live, you don’t realize how his charisma and Southern charm can go toe-to-toe with every ounce of greatness in his voice and storytelling. Every song, every crowd interaction, and every quick quip to bandmates is punctuated by Nichols’ infectiously raspy chuckle. When Nichols introduced “Women and Work,” he made sure to note “it’s a song about whiskey.”  Having seen him drop this line before, I can vouch it’s the perfect sort of Nichols line that gets a hearty laugh every time. Then, you smile even wider when he does his patented chuckle along with you. It’s that sort of heart and charm that allows Lucero to win you over without even having to work at it. They save the hard work for putting on a great rock and roll show.

The band played to roughly 350-400 fans on Thursday night. Even though there was plenty of breathing room at the back of The Vogue, the horde of loyal Lucero fans within spitting distance of the stage brought a level of raucous energy and boogie on par with the small Southern army of seven with instruments. Between set opener “Sounds of the City,” the band’s requisite, always fantastic cover of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle,” “Women and Work,” “Bikeriders,” “All Sewn Up,” and “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” the band blasted guitar-heavy, juke joint piano and brass rock and roll that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on Exile on Main St.  Nichols delivering lines like “We’ll drink just as fast as that river is strong; we’ll drink till we’re gone,” from “Drink Till We’re Gone” aptly summed up the boozy elation of the set (and the majority of the half dozen Lucero sets I’ve seen previous).

One major set highlight included the first usage I’ve ever seen (never having attended any of the club’s wildy popular dance club nights) of The Vogue’s looming disco ball during the lovely drunken ballad “Slow Dancing.” At first, the ball’s flicker to life and the spinning stars was a surprising and curious decision as Nichols sang, “Smoking the cigarettes more than I should / My hands won’t stop shaking and that can’t be good.” By the time he reached the lines, “Slow dance at the end of the night…The light from the disco ball surrounds us with stars…And that slow dance didn`t last very long / So now I guess I`ll be moving on / But it was nice / God damn it was nice,” the atmospheric touch couldn’t have been more delightful and fitting.

Late in the set, Nichols and Steff (alternating between piano and accordion) stunned during a somber, gorgeous two-man, three-song stretch of the ballads “Mom,” “The War,” and “Coming Home.” When the full band returned, the seven-piece appeased the barrage of shout-outs for song requests down front by opening fire on set rarities like “Hearts on Fire” and “My Best Girl,” the band’s first-ever single from back in 2000. Seeing how neither song has presumably been on the band’s regular set list in years, Nichols jokingly conjured the critical voice of a disgruntled fan by saying, “Their set list sucked. They didn’t even know what they were playing.” Needless to say, Nichols put an exclamation point on the joke with his addictive, gravelly chuckle.

As with ever Lucero show, the set in Indianapolis was a loud, boozy, hugely enjoyable rock and roll affair filled with heart and an overwhelming sense of brotherhood. What more could you ask for from one of your favorite bands for a measly twenty bucks and a few unforgettable hours of your time?

 

Set List:

“Sounds of the City”

“On My Way Downtown”

“Nights Like These”

“Kiss the Bottle” (Jawbreaker)

“Raising Hell”

“Women and Work”

“Drink Till We’re Gone”

“Slow Dancing”

“It May Be Too Late”

“Juniper”

“Bikeriders”

“She’s Just That Kind of Girl”

“Hey Darlin’, Do You Gamble?”

“Mom”

“The War”

“Coming Home”

“All Sewn Up”

“Like Lightning”

“Hearts on Fire”

“My Best Girl”

“Sixteen”

“Tears Don’t Matter Much”

“Go Easy”

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