If we’re being honest, there’s probably very little to say about a Lucero live show that hasn’t been said ad infinitum at this point. As they approach the 20-year mark since their inception, the band have a well-earned reputation for not only playing a high volume of shows year after year, but of playing some of the more intense, memorable shows within a hundred mile radius at any given time. That sentiment is true whether they’re playing in their native Tennessee, on the West Coast, or up in Yankee country. Time has changed and the Lucero family tree has grown, so, as is (rightly) the case with many a band of their tenure, the lure of family has pulled them increasingly off the road, paring the 200-250 show a year mentality down by about half, the net result for this writer is one New England show in the calendar year, and that was at an outdoor beer festival (covered here last month), you take the “four-hours-on-a-Sunday” trek to literal Yankee country (okay…formerly Dodger country) to catch them in their natural, club show element.
And so it was last weekend, when the band’s three-week run with Cory Branan in tow made its northeasternmost spot at the Music Hall of Wiliamsburg in Brooklyn. Perhaps more than most bands in this genre (and really, Lucero are their own genre), the Ben Nichols-led outfit have continued to grow and evolve, never seeming content with resting on their collective laurels. Because of this, the band have had several distinctly different sounds with myriad different lineups, meaning that no two Lucero tours nowadays are entirely alike. They’re now on the road fairly consistently as a somewhat stripped down five piece that finds one-of-a-kind Nichols joined by equally one-of-a-kind longtime core members Brian Venable (lead guitar), Roy Berry (drums), John Stubblefield (bass) and, of course, Rick Steff (keyboards/accordion). The lack of pedal steel and, more recently, horns, has produced a sound that’s closer to the raw, post grunge of the early years, but one that’s also refined by years of growth as musicians and songwriters and owners of the stage.
This particular show found the band taking the stage promptly at 9:15pm and slowly ramping up the intensity level over the course of the first handful of songs. As has been the case at more than a handful of shows over the year since their last album, All A Man Should Do, debuted, the slow, brooding “Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” kicked the evening off in slow-burn fashion. When the band went opener-free on the tour for that album, they filled the evening by playing both an acoustic and an electric set. That formula seems to have grown legs, as the evening’s first eleven songs all featured Nichols and his newfound Martin acoustic. While it’s to be expected on songs like “Texas & Tennessee” and “The Man I Was,” this gives a little bit of a fun, intricate vibe to older show staples like “My Best Girl” and “Raising Hell.”
Never one to abandon his trademark Epiphone Sheraon II for too long, however, Nichols and company increased the volume (though, admittedly, not the level of happiness…) around 10:00pm sharp, beginning the electric portion of the evening with “Downtown/On My Way Downtown” from 2012’s Women & Work. Though 2016-era Lucero shows tend not to devolve into the occasionally chaotic events that they did in earlier times, Nichols’ constant need to continue pushing boundaries still creates a ‘seat of their pants’ energy that leaves the effect of having both the audience and the remainder of the band left guessing as to exactly what’ll come next.
And what came next was a pretty representative cross-section of the band’s near-twenty-year catalog. Sure All A Man Should Do remained well-represented, though the band’s 2002 release Tennessee was most represented, producing rambling jams on staples like “Here At The Starlite” and full-crowd singalongs on tracks like “Chain Link Fence” and, of course, “Nights Like These.” “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” from 2003’s That Much Further West, and which name-drops Cory Branan rather famously, garnered probably the most lively crowd response at the 550-capacity Muic Hall, with Berry’s machine-gun-caliber snare and Berry’s steady, heavy groove pacing the way through, providing a launching pad for Nichols and Venable to trade guitar lines. The evening slowed down again toward the end of the set, easing out in much the same way as it eased in, with Nichols donning the Martin acoustic again for “Me & My Girl In ’93” before a brief respite and set closers “Drink Til We’re Gone” and “Fistful Of Tears,” the latter of which found Nichols going guitarless, accompanied only my the always steady, dare I say classy, Steff on keys.
The aforementioned Branan opened the evening’s festivities. (Editor’s note: This marked yours truly’s fourth Branan show in four different States this calendar year, having previously seen him in Connecticut with Brian Fallon and in Rhode Island and Massachusetts with Chuck Ragan). Branan and the Lucero camp, Nichols in particular, obviously go back until about the beginning. Branan is equal parts self-aware (almost painfully so) and self-deprecating, and has long been not only known for his gut-wrenching, razor sharp lyrics but for the curiosity surrounding why, exactly, he hasn’t jumped up to the next level (or two…or four) and become more widely known. When on point (and that’s more often than not in more recent years) about as talented a solo performer as you’ll find, with a unique ability to vary the dynamics of both vocal stylings and his near-virtuoso guitar abilities in a way that will extend its way to all corners of the venue, regardless of the size, and force the listener to pay attention, often times rendering new listeners curious as to what they just heard. Branan’s eleven song set included it’s fair share of long-time crowd favorites (“Prettiest Waitress In Memphis,” “Tall Green Grass,” his own personal Born To Run, “Survivor Blues”) and a handful of tracks from his as-yet-publicly-untitled studio full length, due out next March on Bloodshot Records. Seriously…wait til you hear the song about his dad…
Check out our full photo gallery from the evening below, with a massive mea culpa to Branan for not having been properly in place at the start of his set. I blame New York City… You can still read our ode to the band’s debut album, Lucero, here, and our follow-up ode to the band with help from Dave Hause, Frank Turner and Sal Medrano right here.