God bless the City of Boston for continually trying to breath life, by way of art and music, into the embarrassingly decrepit portion of town that is City Hall Plaza. To paraphrase (read as: steal verbatime) myself from an older story about the Boston Calling Music Festival, City Hall Plaza is, for the non-New Englanders among us, a barren, steaming brick-and-concrete turd located adjacent to a number of otherwise vibrant areas, and has been criminally under-utilized over the years, a literal eyesore for the fifty years since it opened. Boston Calling brought more than a handful of acclaimed national and international performing artists, but it’s since shrunk from biannual to once a year, and has moved away from City Hall entirely. The same team that put it on, however, managed to lire the Copenhagen Beer Celebration to the States for the first time, and provided a pretty eclectic lineup of musical acts to go along with the even more eclectic lineup of microbreweries.
Unlike Boston Calling and other festivals in the past, the focus on the Copenhagen Beer Celebration was beer, not music. And so, in spite of the fact that the stage was located immediately inside the venue’s entrance, most people bypassed the musical festivities for most of the weekend (one session Friday night, two sessions Saturday, all different lineups at each) and opted to hang up the hill at the brewery and food tents. That all changed in time for Lucero, however. As we’ve acknowledged, Lucero are one of “those bands” for people, and engaging with a great number of people Saturday night revealed that the Venn diagram of “people there for the beer” and “people there for Lucero” was, for the most part, a largely concentric circle.
Though the scale might have been larger than most of Lucero’s shows (at least in this area) and because the setting involved the band being fairly separated from the crowd (and despite the fact that it was cold and windy by the end of the 85-minute set), the show still had the feel of a Lucero show. Operating as a five-piece (no horn section for the fly-in/fly-out gig) gave the bulk of the band’s setlist a more raw, stripped-down feel that, while it certainly falls in line with the bulk of the first half of Lucero’s history, has not necessarily been par for the course over the last half-dozen years. Age and the wisdom that comes from spending years as one of the hardest working bands in this or any genre have dulled some of the more intense partying, borderline trainwrecky nature of early Lucero shows, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve always thought that Roy Berry and John Stubblefield composed one of the steadier and underrated rhythm sections out there, allowing Rick Steff (keys, accordion), Brian Venable (lead guitar) and, of course, frontman Ben Nichols the freedom to wander and take chances and stray pretty far, at times, into the sonic ether. The lack of horn section pushes that issue to more of a forefront, particularly on nights like this that were still peppered with occasional false starts and equipment failures (Venable was relegated to losing his guitar and, as fate would have it, his shirt by the end of the night due to a faulty amplifier).
It was fun to see the band a little bit outside their element for this part of the country, only to then realize that with a band as varied and influential as Lucero, there really isn’t any getting outside their element, as they seem to be their own element, having outlasted myriad bands across genres and carving out their own niche and their own sound.