Longtime Boston-area fans of Lucero likely remember back to the band playing aboard a Boston Harbor cruise boat nearly a decade ago. By all accounts (yours truly was not in attendance), it was a bit of disaster, noteworthy in all the wrong reasons, not the least of which were a combination of space issues, technical difficulties, and Mother Nature not being in a particularly good mood. Fast-forward to this past Monday night and they band gave it another shot, this time aboard the larger Provincetown II. The net result could not have been more polar opposite from the 2008 show, giving both the band and the crowd a show that was equally noteworthy but for all the right reasons.
In areas like Boston (and New York and probably other places but I have a horrible East Coast bias), boat cruise shows have become a bit more of a popular option for at least two-and-a-half seasons a year, as soaring real estate costs, liquor licenses, etc., have culminated in a virtual drying up of small- and mid-sized venues. The Provincetown II is an older ship that docks in Boston’s Seaport District and typically spends most of its summer evenings running three-hour booze cruises around the Harbor (that is, when it’s not running as a shuttle between the city and Cape Cod). The minimally-lit stage (which is really not much more than a twelve-by-twelve-foot square set maybe a foot off the floor) is set at the rear of the three-tiered ship’s top deck, meaning that as the opening band takes the stage and the ship pulls away from the dock, you’re not only watching the band play, but watching the city skyline become smaller and smaller in the last few minutes of sunlight.
Boston’s port and harbor remain fairly active and are bordered to the immediate north by Logan International Airport, so tour-opener Banditos (a six-piece Southern-fried rock band from Alabama) started playing in the waning early Summer daylight surrounded by smaller cruise ships, fleets of tanker ships, returning fishing vessels and a string of departing planes taking off immediately overhead. The band were pretty well received, and seemed to think that the experience was just as cool and, in the literal sense, “awesome” on their end as it was on ours. The band’s high-energy forty-minute-ish set seemed to pass particularly quick, probably due in gigantic part to the borderline sensory overload of the experience. It can be tough to pick a perfect opening act for a band like Lucero, but Banditos are a pretty solid fit, their trummed-down Southern jams and three-headed vocal monster seeming to work pretty well on a beer company-sponsored outdoor Summer booze cruise. Their set-closing cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” (popularized by Nina Simone or Creedence Clearwater Revival, depending on your perspective) damn near stole the show as Mary Beth Richardson belted out the lead vocals from the center of the crowd.
The sun had officially set by the time Lucero took the stage.As has frequently been the case recently, the band started with a sort of mini acoustic set, kicked off by “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” from their last full-length, 2015’s All A Man Should Do. While that moment may have been scripted (frontman Ben Nichols joked that he “likes to start with that song because (he) likes it and nobody ever requests it”), the remainder of the twenty-one song (by my count, certainly not official) setlist was largely improvisational and wide-ranging. “Texas & Tennessee,” perhaps one of the two or three saddest songs in a catalog that’s chock full of sad songs, made in early appearance as it generally does, followed quickly by crowd favorite “My Best Girl.”
From there, a few twists and turns popped up, as the bulk of the set seemed to be culled mostly from the wishes of the audience who, for their own parts, were loud and engaged all night. Because of the unique setup of the ship’s upper deck, the crowd essentially filled in around the entirety of the stage, making it seem like the band were playing a theater on the round. “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble,” “Wasted” and “Hold Fast” were particular favorites for yours truly, if only because I’d not seen them live before. “Chain Link Fence” sounds more raw and intense than it did when it debuted fifteen years ago, and the band, now a five-piece again after losing the horn section that had joined them through three albums and their accompanying touring cycles, seem to have figured out how to accommodate for some of that lack of brightness and depth on songs like “Women & Work” and “On My Way Downtown.”
As the ship had turned around and headed back for port, Nichols played a few stripped down songs, starting with “Loving,” a song written for his filmmaker brother Jeff’s 2016 movie of the same name. He kept things stripped down for “Mom” and was joined by keyboard player/accordionist extraordinaire Rick Steff on “The War” and took on an a capella rendition of his solo track “Last Pale Light In The West,” which he jokingly referred to as the only sort of lullabies he can sing to his infant daughter, before being rejoined by the band for most of the rest of the set. Drummer Roy Berry’s unique playing style has long been one of my favorite things to watch, and he seemed steady as ever despite playing on a boat in an active harbor (guitarist Brian Venable commented after the show that it putting a stage on a boat is like trying to play on a piece of plywood inside a bouncy house, if that gives you a little perspective). Venable’s growling lead guitar playing does not always take center stage in a band like Lucero (particularly in the early years where the leads were more noodling riffs than true leads), but when called upon, he continues to shine on tracks like “Tears Don’t Matter Much” and “Last Night In Town.”
Special note should probably be paid to bassist John C. Stubblefield, who disappeared from the stage at one point toward the mid-point of a particularly raucous rendition of “Tears Don’t Matter Much” to partake of the festivities from the audience’s perspective and did so while missing nary a beat in the process before rejoining his bandmates on the stage in stride. Closer to the end of the evening, Stubblefield eventually raised a red wine-inspired toast to the “best night ever,” before the band wrapped up their set and the ship docked and, while maybe a tad hyperbolic, he wasn’t far off from the truth.