Lucero - Off Broadway - St. Louis, MO - 12/07/2010 [Live Review]
From the stage singer/guitarist Ben Nichols advised the nearly sold out crowd, "We've been on the road for 9 and a half weeks and this is our last show before we go home. Tomorrow I will be home, but there's no other place I'd rather be than here." A statement like that can sometimes lead you to believe that the band is either road weary or in prime, well-oiled condition to present a great show. For Lucero, however, the statement was very much the latter!
Sporting his trade mark V-neck white t-shirt with tattoos showing and a camouflage hat, Ben Nichols led Memphis based Lucero through a two-hour plus set of their brand of punk inspired Country/Rock/Soul to the crowd at Off Broadway in St. Louis, MO. Augmented by a 2 man Memphis horn section of saxophone and trumpet, but missing pedal steel player, Todd Beene, Lucero played an inspired set that warmed the St. Louis crowd frigid from the recent falling temperatures and left everyone wanting more by night's end. Nichols' whiskey soaked voice is the perfect for these Americana tinged songs of heartbreaking relationships, drinking, bar fights, motorcycles, family and service to our country. The tag of being Memphis' answer to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is probably a bit unfair and overstated, but the band certainly shares some traits with that famous band -- legendary live shows, rabid fans, and long and varied set lists.
Starting with the Stax influenced "The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo" from their recent release 1372 Overton Park (Universal Republic Records, 2009), Lucero immediately got the partisan crowd reved up for a good night and showcased piano/organ player Rick Sheff's chops. Besides playing 8 of the 12 tracks on their latest album, Lucero played a selection of songs from each album in their strong back catalog during the 26 song set.
Clearly appreciative of the turnout for a Tuesday night show, Nichols stated, "Fridays and Saturdays are for amateurs... Tuesday night is the 'real drinker's' night. A song or two into the set, bass player, John C. Stubblefield asked for more kickdrum, vocals, guitar and organs in his monitor and Nichols cracked wise, "Somebody missed sound check!" Throughout the set Stubblefield, got more inebriated and continued to grab the microphone between songs and exhort some incoherent banter to the crowd.
The pace slowed after the high energy, fast-paced start for the bluesy "Nights Like These" and "Chain Link Fence," but kicked right back in again for the outstanding "Sounds Of The City." After receiving some 80 proof refreshments from the crowd, Nichols cracked, "Thank you for the shots. Let's play some drinking songs." The band kept switching up the pace during the middle of the set, while still managing to stay in a groove and keeping the crowd focused. With Memphis as a home base and the horn section in fine form, the band would have made Otis Redding proud with the neo-soul number, "Goodbye Again."
About three-quarters of the way through the set, Nichols gave the band a break and stayed out to play some songs with piano/organ player, Rick Steff, as his only complement. Steff played organ and accordion on a couple of songs from Nichols' solo album and a couple of Lucero songs "The War" and "Mom." Nichols thanked the crowd for indulging him in this interlude in the middle of the show. "Thank you for putting up with the slow, sad bastard shit," said Nichols before launching into "Mom."
Near the end Nichols told advised that the band had a rule that if someone vomited on the bus the person that cleaned it up would be paid $50. After the previous night when Nichols had puked on the bus, the fine was a hundred large. So, Nichols had made a deal with the sound guy, working right behind where we were standing, to decrease the fine by $20 if he could hit him with a new-found hacky sack from the stage. The crowd parted and ready for the throw. Nichols took his shot, but came up empty sailing it into the balcony. Venable somehow retrieved the hacky sack after it was thrown back to the stage and gave it a try; hitting the light the sound guy used to see the board! Missed it by that much...
The band finished the main set strong pushing the crowd into a frenzy for the last three numbers - "What Else Would You Have Me Be", "I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight", "Tears Don't Matter Much". With beer flying from the $4 Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboys, the crowd up front was re-energized and singing at the top of their lungs. When not singing, Nichols would turn his back to the crowd and relentlessly stalk Roy Berry's drum set like an animal ready to strike. Venable and Stubblefield enjoyed the crowd's energy and did not shy away from the beer bath they were receiving from the enthusiastic crowd.
After a short break, Nichols came out for the encore alone and played "Better Than This" with his hollow body Epiphone guitar still sounding great twenty-four songs into the show. The band came back for the final song, "All Sewn Up," an up tempo rocker about tattoos, and the venue exploded and then it was all over.
After the show the band hung around and conversed about music, had drinks with the fans, signed autographs, and took pictures. In more articles that I can count I had read that Nichols, Venable, and the rest of the band are the least pretentious musicians you'll ever meet and that held true at the St. Louis tour stop as well. Nichols was standing next to the bar talking to some fans wearing a green Army fatigues jacket, with a jean jacket underneath and a red hoodie. After Nichols did some shots at the bar with some other fans, I told him how much I had enjoyed the show. I continued and stated I "hated to admit this was my first Lucero show, but certainly would not be my last," and Nichols gave me a big hug! Not long after Nichols joined our group and started chatting. After a few minutes, my friend Jeff also told Nichols that he had his "Lucero cherry popped" at this show, Nichols said, "that gives me a great idea for a t-shirt" and made a beeline for the merch table to share his idea with the merch girl.
As for the future, a couple days prior to the St. Louis date the band played a show in Denver, CO. According to another blog, Nichols advised the writer he had written 17 new songs, but the band needed to get home first before they could start recording new material. More information about a new album can be gleaned from this past week's edition of the Riverfront Times, Nichols told that writer that the new songs had mostly been written on an acoustic guitar, but may change significantly after entering the studio and giving them the full band treatment.
Personally, 1372 Overton Park has been on constant rotation since I bought the album the day it came out in late 2009. While a new Lucero album may have a different feel than its predecessor, it will nevertheless be highly anticipated by myself and many others.
Set List: The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo That Much Further West Can't Feel A Thing Nights Like These Chain Link Fence Sounds Of The City Kiss The Bottle (Jawbreaker cover) I'll Just Fall Raising Hell Bikeriders Johnny Davis Darken My Door Last Night In Town Goodbye Again Slow Dancing Sixteen Sweet Little Thing Last Pale Light In The West (Ben Nichols solo album, Sheff on accordion) Davy Brown (Ben Nichols solo album, Sheff on accordion) The War Mom What Else Would You Have Me Be I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight Tears Don't Matter Much
Encore Better Than This (Ben solo) All Sewn Up
You can check out the Live Performance given at the KDHX studios early in day here.
The opening band, John Henry and the Engine, played a gutsy, impassioned set of original music to get the night started. Wearing their influences squarely on their sleeve, the band's music hearkened back to the sound of mid-1980's Replacements and Soul Asylum, early 1990's American mixed with a little soul. This assessment is backed up from a quote from St. Louis' KDHX 88.1 FM that was reprinted by the Columbia Tribune, “With relentless guitars and restless voices, John Henry and The Engine burn through the past, present and maybe even the future of American music.”
Singer/Guitarist John Henry has certainly done his research and studied hard on the duties of a Rock 'n Roll front man. Almost to a fault he had all the right moves around the stage. With that said, Henry's harmonica playing and singing along with the band's attack of each song kept the attention of the crowd unlike a lot of opening bands where the crowd gets bored midway through the opening act. The organ/piano work by Michael Hickey was lost in the mix of guitars and the drummer's heavy pounding and wild flailing made it seem like he was playing in another, much bigger venue. Introduced with the line, "For those of you who are music buffs, this is in the key of E minor," a cover of the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers classic, "Refugee" was well executed in the middle of the set. However, the reaction of the crowd seemed ho-hum at best about the number and may be due to the overplay of such a song on St. Louis Classic Rock radio over the years. With some mentoring and more shows under their belt, John Henry and the Engine could certainly move to the next level. Find the band on Facebook and Twitter.