Every once in a while, the mythical creatures that put show lineups together get one so correct that you and your better half pack up the car, drop the kiddo off at her grandparents’ house after her basketball game (go Panthers or Blueberries or whatever we’re calling ourselves now!) and make the five-ish hour trek from Boston to a tiny little borough in north central Jersey over a torrentially rainy February weekend. And so, when the inimitable Andy Diamond announced that February 10th at Crossroads in Garwood, New Jersey, would consist of an evening featuring the musical stylings of Lucero‘s Ben Nichols and The Scandals/Mercy Union‘s Jared Hart, it seemed the mythical creatures had spoken.
Jared Hart led off the late evening’s festivities in stellar fashion in what was all but a hometown show for the Bayonne-based punk. Lucero fans are an intensely dedicated lot who travel far and wide to see “their” band – let alone to see the band’s frontman in a rare, one-off solo gig – but Hart was more than up to the task of getting the night started on the right track. Hart has a penchant for penning sweeping, sing-along choruses, and that was on display from set-opener “Totem” on forward. The bulk of Hart’s set consisted of material from the Scandals catalog and his first solo album, 2015’s Past Lives And Pass Lines (including a duet with his own longtime better half, Casey, on “The Leo”), with a track from the forthcoming debut from his new project, Mercy Union, thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there was a rousing cover of the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” which was resoundingly well-received.
After a bit of an extended layover between sets, Nichols took the stage accompanied by only by his trademark Martin acoustic and a half-filled fifth of Bulleit Rye Whiskey and embarked on what would become a rollicking, spirited look through the deeper portions of his songwriting catalog. Beginning the night with “Chambers,” Nichols highlighted the bulk of his brilliant debut solo EP, 2009’s The Last Pale Light In The West, across the evening. As could be expected at a Lucero show, the crowd was a constant vocal present throughout the duration of Nichols’ largely freeform set. And while a couple of expected long-time crowd favorites (“Nights Like These,” “Raising Hell,” “I’ll Just Fall”) made their staple appearances, the bulk of the twenty-nine (by my count, anyway) song setlist focused on either brand new material, or songs that have long since fallen out of regular live rotation.
While we’re not yet sure exactly how many songs will appear on Lucero’s forthcoming studio album (due hopefully this coming summer), we have gotten a pretty stellar taste of what’s to come on tracks like — and these are apparently working titles — “To My Dearest Wife I Write” and “Everything Has Changed” and “Bottom Of The Sea.” Also included on this evening were brand new tracks that won’t be on whatever becomes their new album – a sweet ode to his year-old daughter “Hello, My Name Is Izzy” and the searing and already underrated “One Last Fuck You.” Nichols also dusted off “The Outsiders,” a track by his pre-Lucero band Red Forty, and dedicated it to a longtime, well-known fan in the crowd. Nichols enjoyment of the evening was not only quite noticeable — not only by his eight or nine whiskey-infused Cheerses to the crowd — but was increasingly infectious over the course of the two-plus-hour set. As the midnight hour came and went and the *ahem* sobering reality of a 10:30am trip to catch a flight out of Newark sank in (prompting the image above), both Nichols and the still engaged crowd might have brought the musical portion of the evening to a close, but most were slow to leave, choosing instead to revel in the afterglow of what was a memorable (depending on your alcohol intake) and inimitable evening.
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