Just about exactly a year ago, inimitable Lucero frontman Ben Nichols played a one-off date at Crossroads in Garwood, New Jersey, the Andy Diamond-booked club that’s located kinda near everything but not really NEAR anything in the north central part of the Garden State. It wasn’t part of a bigger tour, like Nichols and his pal Oliver Peck‘s occasional Bikeriders combined music and tattoo tour. It seemed a bit random, really, but as can be expected, the 250-ish capacity venue sold out pretty quickly and made for, as chronicled here by yours truly, a pretty special evening.
It was so special, in fact, that Nichols made a return trip this past Saturday, this time as the second night of a two-day solo “tour” that featured a show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the previous night. Support on this night came from local singer/songwriter Chris Batten and his trusty sidekick Nick Guido, who more regularly appear together in the Chris Batten & The Woods project. The result was another sold-out, whiskey-fueled barn-burner of a show that should all but solidify Nichols’makes an annual stop going forward at what’s become one of my favorite venues to visit.
Accompanied solely by his trusty workhorse Martin acoustic, a not-quite-full fifth of Bulleit Bourbon whiskey, and a literal Home Depot five-gallon bucket filled with ice appropriately adorned with “Let’s Do This” in big, bold letters on the side, Nichols took the stage at shortly after ten p.m. and proceeded to take the crowd on a winding, humorous, occasionally powerful, occasionally sloppy, always enjoyable set over the course of just about the next two-and-a-half hours. “Can’t You Hear Them Howl,” from Lucero’s 2015 album All A Man Should Do kicked things off, complete with audience-provided howling wolf sounds in the choruses. Audience participation proved to be a running theme throughout the show, as a good-natured Nichols was bombarded with a constant stream of requests for the duration of the evening, doing his best piece together some semblance of a “setlist” that balanced A) songs people wanted to hear and B) songs he could remember; the latter of which proved to be a bit challenging as the whiskey continued to flow.
In total, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-seven songs that were at least started, spanning all points of Nichols’s career, including “Crystal Blue,” which dates back to his pre-Lucero days in the band Old Lucky Sun. Nichols repeatedly commented on the crowd’s seemingly endless knowledge of the deeper tracks in the Lucero catalog, and he responded by pulling out such tracks as “Hold Me Close,” “Mine Tonight,” “Hello Sadness,” and the solo tracks “Davy Brown” and “Chambers.” There’s been a lot of references to family throughout Nichols’s songwriting career, though that theme has never been more prevalent than it was on Lucero’s most recent album, last year’s stellar Among The Ghosts. To that end, well-worn favorites like “Mom” and “The War” and “Raising Hell” made appearances in this set, as did more recent tracks like “To My Dearest Wife” and “Loving” and “Hello My Name Is Izzy.” The former two tracks were inspired by his wife while the latter is an ode to their two-and-a-half year-old daughter, and the tracks were made particularly poignant by the fact that Ben’s wife was in attendance at the show, while Izzy was asleep at a hotel down the road after hitting the bottle a little too hard in Lancaster the night before. Perhaps if he was playing with full band, some of the false-starts and wide-ranging stories told over the course of the evening wouldn’t have played quite so well, but in this intimate, stripped down setting, artist and crowd seemed to be in symbiotic union, and created a performance that really could have gone on a lot longer had potential curfews and, well, straight Kentucky bourbon not interjected.
Head below for more photos from the evening!