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Lucero announce October/December US tour dates

Good news, Lucero fans. The Memphis five-piece are heading back out on the road for a pretty lengthy run in October, plus a couple three-night East Coast and West Coast stints to bookend Christmas week.

The bulk of the touring festivities kick off with two night stay in St. Louis on October 2nd and 3rd, and runs through October 27th in Pensacola. Support comes from such varied acts as Vandoliers, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and Rhode Island’s The Huntress And Holder Of Hands, the spell-binding band that joined Lucero on the road on their recent run of shows opening for Flogging Molly. All of that is followed by a long weekend in Boston from 12/19 to 12/21, and a long weekend in Mill Valley, CA, that runs 12/27 to 12/29. Check out the full rundown below.

Lucero are still touring in support of their stellar 2018 album, Among The Ghosts (Thirty Tigers).



DS Photo Gallery: Lucero Family Block Party 2019 (w/Austin Lucas, Will Hoge, Ben Abney and Blackberry Smoke)

If you’re a fan and follower of Lucero, you’re no doubt aware that the chance for inclement weather surrounding the band’s Family Block Party, an annual day-long outdoor festival held at Minglewood Hall in their hometown of Memphis, Tennesee, is generally somewhere in the neighborhood of 100%. In fact, the trend dates back to pre-Block Party years, when they held a similarly themed Family Picnic in frontman Ben Nichols’ birthplace of Little Rock, Arkansas. And so it was no surprise when a daily check of the weather forecast last week devolved from “hey, this doesn’t look too bad,” to “oh well, bring a poncho” to “oh my god, we might get a tornado” in the lead-up to Saturday’s festivities. And while no tornadoes touched down in Memphis (the closest did, however, make a deadly appearance a couple hour drive down the road into Mississippi), Saturday did bring with it a deluge and thunderstorm of nearly Biblical proportions, causing more than a few game-time decisions, a bunch of mad merch-table dashes, and an altered venue and lineup that made for perhaps the most unique – and most classically-Lucero – Block Party to date.

Local musician Ben Abney and his band, The Hurts, were due to kick off festivities in the mid-afternoon on the stage set up in Minglewood Hall’s adjacent parking lot amidst the myriad merch tents and craft beer and food vendors, and they did just that to a crowd that was admittedly thin as a result of weather-phobic late arrivers that may or may not have included yours truly. It was from here that all hell proceeded to break proverbially loose, as the rain continued to fall harder and harder and was accompanied by frequent local thunder and lightning. There are rules surrounding lightning strikes and electrical equipment, and I’m not going to pretend to be enough of an electrical engineer to understand them. What I do know is that there was a stage full of instruments and backline equipment and the venue’s main PA and soundboard equipment were sitting in the middle of a parking lot that was rapidly turning into a pond. All of it, due to the severity of the storm, was untouchable. So as the vendors and merch crews broke down their displays and lugged everything inside at breakneck speed, the actual “show” people came to see had stalled out; more tickets had been sold than the 1600 capacity indoor venue could accommodate, and there was no real sound equipment from which to hear anybody anyway, so the next ninety-or-so minutes consisted of a club’s worth of people wondering what, exactly, would happen next.

What happened next could have been…well…ugly. The bars were open and the food was located outside and across the parking lot from the venue. Couple that with a lack of discernible information about how things were going to proceed and you had an equation that could have gone rather poorly. Slowly but surely, however, the night turned pretty special. The Mighty Souls Brass Band, who’d been slated to make a few between-set appearances strolling through the outdoor grounds, brought their New Orleans-via-Memphis brass sound indoors to help keep the crowd fired up on the music at hand. Finally, Austin Lucas, who’d been slated to play the outdoor stage next up, accompanied by a full band, grabbed an acoustic guitar, made his way to the front of the stage area in the main concert hall at Minglewood, and belted out a handful of tunes not only unplugged but un-mic’d, accompanied by only the crowd that had started to gather once they realized something was happening. It’s worth mentioning that Lucas had played a full-band show in the UK the night before, hopped a flight back to the States, and made it to Memphis about an hour before he was supposed to play. Had the show gone as planned, his performance would have been impressive; as it turned out given the circumstances, it was downright Herculean.

While Lucas was playing on the floor, the venue’s staff was plugging in mics and lights on the stage in an effort to make the best with what they had around them. Lucero’s lead guitar player Brian Venable took the stage and filled in the faithful that, while they still couldn’t access the sound equipment that was still outside the venue, there’d be stripped down sets from the shows performers on the big stage for the rest of the night. What would have been an outdoor Family Block Party was now going to be, essentially, an indoor Family Lock In. Lucero frontman Ben Nichols kicked things off by running through a few tracks on his own before calling Lucas back out where they shared vocal duties on the Lucas-requested Lucero track “Slow Dancing.” Lucas then played another of his own songs, the title track from his latest album Immortal Americans.

Will Hoge followed with his unique brand of rabble-rousing, country-tinged songwriter fair. Hoge is a Tennessee native who’s made a living challenging not only the status quo in Nashville, but challenging a series of long-held cultural beliefs about just what it means to be a white man living in the Bible Belt. Hoge has been called the “Tennessee Troublemaker” for good reason, making a career out of asking difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions of his listeners. While he was also supposed to play with a full band on the big outdoor stage, getting the chance to see him on just acoustic guitar gave his handful of songs a little extra poignancy. Charlie Starr of Georgia rock band Blackberry Smoke followed. His band were due to be main support for this episode of the Lucero Family Block Party, but the above-mentioned circumstances found Starr also playing solo acoustic style on the indoor stage. While Blackberry Smoke’s normal sound is steeped in modern Allman Brothers/Skynyrd Southern grooves, hearing Starr play solo and unaccompanied gave more of a Laurel Canyon/Neil Young vibe to the festivities. Ben Abney also returned for a bit of an encore, getting the opportunity to play on a stage that was A) dry and B) in front of hundreds of people unlike his full-band, rain-soaked set earlier in the day. Abney has a punk rocker’s past, and as a solo artist has got a penchant for writing tear-jerking soul-filled folk songs, all of which were perfect for a Lucero crowd.

Introduced by Lucero bass player/”spirit animal” John C. Stubblefield, Ben Nichols took the stage again for what would be the event’s headline set, a bit of a seat-of-your-pants ninety-ish minute set that included both Nichols’ solo work and a bunch of Lucero staples. The set kicked off with Nichols accompanied by his trusty sidekick Rick Steff on accordion for songs like “Nights Like These,” “Davy Brown,” and the gut-wrenching “Darby’s Song,” the latter of which I don’t think I’d heard live before. Nichols brought out Mighty Souls’ Jason Yasinsky (trombone) and Jim Spake (saxophone) – the latter of who appeared as the centerpiece of Lucero’s horn section for a number of years – for a handful of tracks that included “Sixes & Sevens,” “On My Way Downtown” and “Can’t You Hear Them Howl.” Nichols leaned heavily on audience requests as the night progressed, and frequently made mention of his respect for the audience for hanging in there in spite of the less-than-ideal circumstances that the weather created. And so while those in attendance didn’t have the opportunity to catch some of their favorite full bands outside under the Memphis sky, those that stuck it out were eventual witness to an event that was uniquely special in its own right.

Check out our full photo rundown below!

 



DS Photo Gallery: Flogging Molly with Lucero and The Huntress And Holder Of Hands From Boston’s House OF Blues

Flogging Molly brought the 2019 US leg of their current world tour to the House of Blues in Boston last Friday night. It’d been roughly six years since I’d last seen them in this very same spot (and, actually, just over eighteen years since I’d first seen them in this very same spot, albeit in a much smaller club – Axis – at the time, sandwiched in between Avail and Dropkick Murphys, all of whom were supporting Mighty Mighty Bosstones but I swear I’m not bragging). If there’s one thing that can be said about Flogging Molly circa 2019, it’s that more than two decades into the Celtic punk septet’s career, their live performance remains a total and complete bombastic juggernaut.

Frontman and bandleader Dave King led his merry band of misfits — wife and violin/tin whistle player Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, bass player Nathen Maxwell, accordion player Matt Hensley, banjo player Spencer Swain and drummer Mike Alonso — out of the gate swinging, kicking things off with crowd favorite “(No More) Paddy’s Lament” that fired the crowd up from the start, producing the first in what seemed to be a constant onslaught of crowd surfers on this particular evening. From there, the band ripped through a dozen-and-a-half tracks that proved a pretty solid, career-spanning cross-section (though nothing from 2011’s Speed of Darkness made an appearance). They’ve been playing a very similar main set throughout most of tour, with newer tracks from their most recent album, Life Is Good, peppered in throughout a series of old favorites (“Devil’s Dance Floor,” “The Likes Of You Again,” of course “Drunken Lullabies). A couple of the numerous things that made this particular night special – aside from the fired up crowd – included a “Happy Birthday” singalong to one of Dennis Casey’s sons who was in town celebrating his eleventh trip around the sun, and a couple of brief appearances from longtime friend of the band Mike McColgan of Street Dogs fame.

Primary support on this run of the tour is provided by the mighty Lucero. If you’re a frequent visitor of this here website, you’re no-doubt aware we’ve covered band quite a bit live in a variety of different formats over the last couple of years. But aside from a run through Providence, Rhode Island, with in support of Clutch a few years ago, we haven’t seem them in an opening role in a while, so the band’s forty-five minute set was a bit of a departure and seemed like it was over way too quickly. The band’s latest album, last year’s stellar Among The Ghosts, was pretty heavily represented in the set that covered about ten songs. While a Flogging Molly crowd is A) generally pretty vocal and B) very much a FLOGGING MOLLY crowd, there was more than a little bit of cross-over on this particular night. Other highlights included a merch table-side request for “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble” from 2009’s 1372 Overton Park, and of course Ben and Rick’s otherwise unaccompanied run-throughs of “The War” and “Loving.” While an abbreviated, less-than-freeform Lucero set is still enjoyable and poignant as hell, we’re very much looking forward to our return trip to Memphis for to catch Ben and Brian and Roy and John and Rick at this year’s Family Block Party in April.

Each show on this leg of the tour also features opening appearances from Providence, Rhode Island’s The Huntress And Holder Of Hands. Admittedly, we’d not heard THAHOH before we found out that they were opening this run, although in hindsight we were at least peripherally aware of frontwoman MorganEve Swain’s old band, Brown Bird. The “new” band formed after the death of Swain’s husband and Brown Bird collaborator Dave Lamb, and perform as a sextet featuring string bass, cello, electric bass, drums, and Swain singing while alternating between viola and electric guitar. The result is a really, genuinely interesting sound that’s equal parts haunting chamber music and post-metal and Americana; for comparison’s sake only, I guess it’s like if Murder By Death were inspired by mournful soulfulness and not, well, whiskey or space operas (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Check out our full photo rundown below.

 



DS Photo Galley: A Messy, Fun Evening with Ben Nichols and Chris Batten at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ

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!

 



Lucero announce full lineup for 2019 Family Block Party

Happy Lucero Day, Memphis!

It’s still a few months away, but Lucero have announced full details for the 2019 installment of their annual Family Block Party. It takes place outside Minglewood Hall in their hometown of Memphis on Saturday, April 13th. This year’s lineup includes Austin Lucas (one of our favorites), Ben Abney and the Hurts, Nashville’s Will Hoge and southern rockers Blackberry Smoke. Tickets went on sale today; grab ’em here. We traveled down from Boston last year — here’s proof — and trust us when we say the Family Block Party is a barn-burner of a time. We’ll see you there!

Lucero’s most recent album, the stellar Among The Ghosts, was released on Thirty Tigers last year.



DS Exclusive: The Live Music Year In Pictures (Jay Stone)

Another year in the books, and while I scaled down the amount of shows I shot this year for a variety of reasons, it was still pretty awesome and eventful. The year started with a trip to Jersey to catch Jared Hart and a barn-burner of a Ben Nichols solo performance at the inimitable Crossroads venue booked by the equally inimitable Andy Diamond. There was also a trip to Connecticut to see Lucero and Jake LaBotz, a trip to Memphis for Lucero’s Family Block Party-slash-20th birthday celebration, another trip to Connecticut for the last installment of the Warped Tour (so, mostly, to see The Interrupters) and another trip back to Jersey for the Bouncing Souls‘ annual Stoked For The Summer throwdown that featured sets from Against Me!, Tim Barry, Titus Andronicus and Smoking Popes. Then there was a whirlwind Brooklyn trip to see Brian Fallon and Craig Finn. Oh, and there was another trip to Connecticut for a rager of a Bouncing Souls/Swingin Utters show. And a trip to New Hampshire for another Utters show. And a Frank Turner show in New Hampshire with Bad Cop/Bad Cop too.

Michael Kane

 

Oh The Humanity

Johnny Rioux (Street Dogs)

Rebuilder

But don’t think that means there was a lack of spectacular shows here on the homefront. There were stellar nights with Bundles and Birdwatching and Michael Kane & The Morning Afters and Art Thieves and Street Dogs and of course Rebuilder and of course Rebuilder again and Dan Webb and the Spiders a few times and Mint Green and Depressors and Oh The Humanity and KCUF and Weathered Friends.

Jared Hart and his better half, Casey

Ben Nichols

Trever and Dennis of Face To Face

Kayleigh Goldsworthy (Dave Hause)

National acts of all shapes and sizes came through the Boston area as well. Of course there was Lucero. And the same Brian Fallon/Craig Finn tour. And The Penske File. And The Lawrence Arms with Sincere Engineer and Red City Radio. And Fallon again. And Face To Face with Austin Lucas. And Dave Hause a couple times in a couple different formats. And another Frank Turner show. And Iron Chic. And Dead Bars. And Noi!se. And of course there was Pearl Jam at Fenway.

CJ Ramone

Bouncing Souls

Dave Hause crowd surfing during Frank Turner

Sincere Engineer

If you check this site out a lot, you’ll know I take a ton of pictures at most shows, and I try to present some of my favorite ones on a regular basis. Below, however, is a few dozen of my favorite pictures of the year. Some of them came out great, some of them came out less great but tell a cool story or evoke a great and personal memory. That’s ultimately, I guess, what I try to do when I’m shooting shows. Thanks for reading, and for looking, and for supporting the people and the venues that keep this thing chugging down the road.

Click on the individual pictures to see blow them up. Bring on 2019. -JMS-

 



DS Staff Picks: Jay Stone’s Favorite Albums of 2018 (w/Spotify playlist)

Hey boys and girls, Jay Stone checking in with yet another year-end list. I’m the dopey one on the left up there. Anywho, as is par for the course, I put way more than ten albums on my “top ten” list, because rules are for squares or whatever. I tend to have a tough time coming up with a definitive number one, but my choice here has occupied that spot for the last eight months and never really got knocked off. A lot of the top half of the list is almost interchangeable based on my current mood, and might have even changed in the time between when I typed this list and when I actually published it. There’s a pretty extensive (fifty-ish song) Spotify playlist that features at least a couple tracks from each of these releases, so check it out and maybe find some new music! Check it all out below!



DS Photo Gallery: Lucero with Brent Cowles, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA

Lucero are no strangers to the Boston area, but it’s been a few years since they played a proper club show of this sort; 2016 saw them headlining the Copenhagen Beer Fest, last years saw them playing on a boat in Boston Harbor. At the tail end of the East Coast run in support of their latest album, Among The Ghosts, the band made a whirlwind return to the city the weekend before last, returning to the legendary Paradise Rock Club for the first time in half a decade. Lucero have played some rather legendarily raucous shows in prior ventures to the greater Boston area, and while the craziest of those days are largely in their collective rear-view mirror, the fact that the band are on a pretty great run right now and that the show took place on a Saturday night resulted in a pretty high-energy affair.

The band kicked things off with the title track from Among The Ghosts, and in rather atypical fashion for Lucero, played largely the same core set they’d been playing on most nights of this particular run (albeit without a visible setlist in the house). What it might have lacked in improvisation, though, the set more than made up for in style and variation. Of course the new album was rightfully best represented throughout, but the band’s self-titled 2001 debut and sophomore album Tennessee, released the following year, combined to make up roughly half of what we’d call the “main set.” The return to prominence of underrated songs like “No Roses No More” and the more recent “I Can’t Stand To Leave You” are particular highlights for yours truly; the latter being an example of a song that, though Nichols wrote it during a different time in his life, has taken on new meaning and in light of more recent events in his life, and perfectly connects some of the grittier musical tones of early Lucero with the family-centered lyrical content so prevalent on Among The Ghosts. And fear not, old-school fans, the night wasn’t exactly formulaic — it’s a Lucero show, after all — as the quintet mixed things up in the latter part of their set, opted to play more music instead of leaving the stage and returning for an “encore,” and caved to audience-led peer pressure by pulling out “Bikeriders” late in the set.

Support on this run came from Brent Cowles and his stellar backing band, the Foxhole Family Band. Sadly, I admittedly wasn’t all-too familiar with the Denver-based singer-songwriter prior to the announcement of his opening role on this tour. Shame on me. Though small in stature, Cowles, the son of a preacher, sings and shreds with the kind of full-bodied soul that would make Sam Cooke look down and smile. Check out Cowles’ work here.

While you’re at it, check out our photo gallery from the evening below. You can find upcoming Lucero tour dates here. Among The Ghosts, as you should be aware, was released August 3rd on Thirty Tigers.

 

 



DS Exclusive: Lucero’s Ben Nichols talks “Among The Ghosts” and the band’s twenty-year legacy

“My life would have been so much easier if I had just played punk rock songs at punk rock shows, or played country songs at country shows. But for some reason, there’s something in me that has got to play punk rock songs at country shows and country songs at punk rock shows.” – Ben Nichols (Lucero)

It’s an interesting phenomenon to have been a band long enough to have something resembling an arc or a trajectory to your career, thanks in no small part to the amount of “figuring you out” that fans and industry people and pretend music journalists like yours truly will try to do. If you’ve followed the path of Memphis’ Lucero, who’ve now crossed the twenty year mark as a band, you’ll know that it’s one marked by a series of genre-busting left-hand turns; depending where you jumped on the train as it careened down the track, you found yourself a fan of a band that was performing markedly different music – and was composed of markedly different members – than somebody who hopped aboard five years in either direction. 

The early part of 2018 brought with it the 20th anniversary of the band’s first show (celebrated in a barn-burner of a block party in their collective hometown back in April), and also found the band putting the finishing touches on its soon-to-be-released ninth studio album, Among The Ghosts. Due out August 3rd on a new label home (Thirty Tigers) the album finds the quintet taking a hard left once again. Gone is the quintessentially Memphis boogie-woogie sound that had been a focal point of the last three Ted Hutt-produced albums. Instead, Among The Ghosts finds the band producing some of the fullest sounds and most complex textures of the band’s two-decade-old catalog: Nichols’ lyrics and vocals are more earnest, the bass grooves are punchier, the time-keeping pocket is deeper, the guitar leads are soaring and more angular, the keys and strings and horns lead to a fuller and more cinematic quality than we’ve heard the band commit to record. In many ways, it’s years different from a lot of what we’ve heard from Lucero in recent memory; in other ways, it’s the most “Lucero” album yet.

We caught up with Lucero frontman Ben Nichols via telephone from his house, and it became instantly apparent that it’s not only the band’s musical direction that have changed since the release of their last album, 2015’s All A Man Should Do. An hour before our conversation, Lucero announced a slew of US tour dates that’ll keep them busy for the bulk of this coming fall. For a band that long-ago earned its Road Warrior badge of honor, that should not come as much of a surprise. However this Lucero circa 2018, not 2008. Nichols, who spent the formative years of his songwriting career penning some of the most soul-crushing songs of whiskey-soaked heartbreak and unrequited love of the last generation, has not only gotten married but has become a father for the first time (his not-quite-two year-old daughter Izzy is the whirling-dervish focal point to the band’s limited-release seven-inch that hit shelves a month ago).

If Nichols and company weren’t so immensely proud of the new record – and with good reason – the remainder of this calendar year might look radically different. “I’m really excited about the new record,” Nichols states rather emphatically. Now, it is obviously standard operating procedure for bands to publicly pronounce that their new music is more satisfying than anything they’ve produced to date, especially when it’s fresh. Nichols is nothing if not tangibly genuine in his appreciation for the new material, perhaps because it is, legitimately, so damn good. “I really love these new songs, and I love playing them every night…it hurts a little more to leave town, but I’m just so proud of the record, so it’s totally worth saying goodbye for a little bit and going out on the road.”

When it came time to write material for the first post-fatherhood album for two of the band’s members (drummer Roy Berry’s own daughter is just shy of two as well), the band opted not to team up with Ted Hutt again, as had been their recent pattern, and instead stuck with the theme of keeping things different this time out. Where the Hutt-era albums involved a lot of pre-production and a concentrated editing effort geared at cutting things up and making them fit in the best way possible, the Among The Ghosts sessions started the band back toward their earlier influences. “For the last three records,” Nichols states, “I wanted to go for that more Memphis sound, with the horn section and the boogie-woogie piano parts. It was fun to explore that. But with this record, I decided to go back to our roots.”

Those roots, as should be probably apparent given Nichols’ age and place in the music scene, involved traditional country music and late-80s alternative rock, run through a bit of a punk rock filter. Sort of. “When I started the band, it was kind of a rejection of the punk rock scene. I wanted to play sort of traditional country music, which we quickly found out we were unable to play,” explains Nichols. “I started off playing at 14, 15 years old, learning Cure covers and REM covers. That kind of ‘120 Minutes‘ era stuff. That’s what I grew up listening to in high school and those are the first songs that I learned how to play when I picked up a guitar. That stuff, whether I wanted it to be or not, was actually more of a presence in that early Lucero stuff than I thought it was.”

When searching for musical inspiration, looking toward one’s roots can be a questionable decision if not handled appropriately. But with the right approach, and with twenty years more knowledge, skill and ability in the ol’ tool belt, it can bear productive fruit. Armed with little more than four or five basic guitar lines to work with, the band gathered in early 2017 at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis with a new locally-based producer, Matt Ross-Spang, who has a few Grammys to his credit from work with the likes of Jason Isbell, combined his attitude with the studio knowledge they obtained through the Hutt years, and took their time crafting a new record. The band set up on the floor in the studio and experimented, capturing new sounds and directions in real time, and allowing the product to build slowly and organically toward its eventual direction in real time. The Civil War letter home-inspired cadence and march of “To My Dearest Wife” came together fairly quickly, as did the album’s title track, an intense, angular rock song that also ranks as probably the most on-the-nose personal song on the album if not in the entire Nichols catalog. “Family ended up being a much bigger influence on the record than I thought it was going to be at first,” Nichols explains. “With Izzy and being married and having a house and a family (editor’s note: Nichols’ wife has two daughters from a prior relationship), those themes are obviously at the front of my mind, and those are songs that I feel like singing because that’s kind of what I’m going through at the moment.”

The album contains its fair share of running themes, many of which revolve around the protagonist not only having a battle to fight, literally or metaphorically, but a reason – in the shape of another person – to keep fighting for. Title track aside, Nichols explains that he was “intentionally trying to write more in a storytelling way, where the narrator isn’t necessarily Ben Nichols, and trying to work on the craft of songwriting, although that sounds pretentious.” Filled with straight forward mid-tempo tracks like “Everything Has Changed” and “To My Dearest Wife,” frantic, jagged rockers like the title track and “Cover Me” and tender ballads like “Always Been You” and “Loving,” the latter of which was also used in the closing credits of Nichols’ brother, Jeff’s award-winning 2016 movie of the same title, many of the images captured on Among The Ghosts are certainly inspired by very real events and historical tales, but they’re written in a way that makes the message translatable to the modern listener. “I wanted (them) to be applicable to whatever battle anyone’s fighting in their life. Whatever goals you have and whatever you’re fighting for, I wanted it to be able to apply to that.”

At this point, the bulk of Among The Ghosts has been played live over the course of the last half-year, with Nichols playing some of the tracks solo and acoustic in a one-off New Jersey date earlier this year, and the band playing a handful of tracks at springtime tour dates. Then, of course, came arguable the most traditionally “punk rock” decision any band will make this year, which found Lucero taking their 45 minute direct support slot on Frank Turner’s recent full US tour, sandwiched in between The Menzingers and Turner himself, and to using it to play 90% of the new album, months before its release. “It was a Frank Turner show, so we only had 45 minutes,” explains Nichols somewhat sheepishly. “Really when it comes down to it, I had so much fun playing those songs, and I’m away from my family and a lot of these songs are about missing my family, so I really just did it for myself! I think it worked!

The one song that didn’t make it into that set, for reasons that’ll be obvious to the listener once they hear it, is “Back To The Night,” a track that’s jarring to listen to the first time out, as it contains a lengthy spoken-word element performed by Academy Award-nominated actor Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals, Take Shelter, Mud, etc, etc, etc), who’ll also star in the band’s upcoming video for “Long Way Back Home. The band found themselves with the bulk of the track’s dark, haunting music completed, and Nichols had a surplus of lines that had been cut out of other songs that he didn’t want to necessarily discard. Inspired by the early-90s trend in which bands would insert movie or television dialog into their songs, what Nicholas also had was an idea. He explains: “I pieced together lines that I’d written that didn’t get used. A lot of them were from “Everything Has Changed,” some of them were from “Back To The Night,” some of them were from other things..that weren’t being used and were on the cutting room floor, but that I didn’t really want to get rid of. So I sent it to my brother, Jeff, and said “man, if you can just have Mike (Shannon) call us and leave a voice memo…” He was nice enough, within twenty-four hours, to recite those lines in a voice memo, and it was the coolest thing ever to get that voice memo.”

After a period of three-or-so weeks in the studio, stretched out over the course of most of 2017, Lucero completed work on Among The Ghosts. Though each of the track’s ten tracks are different, sometimes radically, it still ranks as perhaps the most complete and cohesive collection of stories in the band’s lexicon. “I think I’m pretty good at taking a step back and evaluating where the band is, at least for the last three records and how this new record fits into that arc,” Nichols affirms matter-of-factly. “I think we’re right where we want to be… (Among The Ghosts) ended up sounding exactly like the kind of music I was in the mood to hear right now.”

Head below to check out our full, extensive chat with Nichols. It ranks as one of our favorite conversations to appear on the pages of Dying Scene to date. While you’re at it, you can still pre-order Among The Ghosts here before it’s too late.

 



Lucero release video for “For the Lonely Ones” and announce tour dates

Folk-punk outfit Lucero recently shared a video for the song “For the Lonely Ones.” The song comes from the upcoming LP Among the Ghosts scheduled to be released August 3 via their own Liberty & Lament label.

The band has also announced some dates for a tour that has them traveling nearly to the end of the year.

Watch the video and see the tour dates below.

Among the Ghosts will be the first full-length studio album from the band since 2015’s All a Man Should Do.



Frank Turner announces tour of the United States


British singer/songwriter Frank Turner will be touring the United States in support of his latest album Be More Kind. He’ll be touring with his backing band The Sleeping Souls and supporting him on the tour will be Lucero and The Menzingers.  Check out the dates and locations below.

Be More Kind was released May 4 via Xtra Mile Recordings.



New Music: Lucero debut “To My Dearest Wife” and “For The Lonely Ones” from upcoming album, “Among The Ghosts”

Still riding the wave from the tremendously successful 20-year anniversary birthday bash in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, Lucero have officially announced plans for a brand-new full-length album on a brand-new label home.

Entitled Among The Ghosts, the album is slated for release on August 3rd via Thirty Tigers. It marks the band’s first album since 2015’s All A Man Should Do. And while it might also be the band’s first album since the birth of frontman Ben Nichols’ first child, don’t assume the band has flipped to writing only happy songs. Says Nichols: “As it turns out, I think Among the Ghosts is probably one of the darker records we’ve ever made. Possibly the darkest if not the saddest. Not sure if that’s because I got married and had a daughter or in spite of it. It’s dark but it’s big and tough at the same time. And I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Pre-orders for Among The Ghosts are available here, and they include some pretty cool, band-member specific options. As a bonus, you can check out the debut of not one, but TWO new tracks, “To My Dearest Wife” and “For The Lonely Ones,” right here. You can also check out the cover art for Among The Ghosts down below. It’s a haunting, tintype picture of a flooded-out Mt. Zion Baptist Church No. 1 in rural Mississippi, taken by the friend and fellow fan Michael Foster.

Lucero head out on the road with the great Frank Turner in a couple weeks for a US tour; dates are below the album cover below!



DS Photo Gallery: Lucero celebrate 20th anniversary with hometown Block Party blowout

Last weekend (April 13-14), for the fourth time in as many years, Lucero fans from far and wide converged on the grounds surrounding Minglewood Hall in the band’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, for the annual Family Block Party, a music and arts extravaganza for patrons of all ages. This year’s installment, in addition to being the biggest one yet, was celebratory for another, particularly noteworthy reason; April 13, 2018, marked the twentieth anniversary of Lucero’s very first show, which took place in a Memphis warehouse across the street from the infamous Lorraine Motel.

The weekend’s festivities kicked off on the evening of Friday the 13th inside the 1884 Lounge at the Minglewood complex, in the form of a gathering that was equal parts history lesson and birthday party, the bulk of which was curated by Lucero lead guitar player Brian Venable. Venable has long been the band’s unofficial historian, and in the days (hours?!?) leading up to the event, he dug through the time capsule and pulled out old pictures, setlists, album artwork, show flyers, lyric sheets and band-related memorabilia (old Flying Vs! Roy’s old Nikes!) that were compiled into a walk-through exhibit that inspired a night full of laughter and reminiscing between the band’s members, crew, and family of dedicated fans.

The lounge and the cavernous concert hall inside Minglewood remained open on Saturday, but the bulk of the goings-on took place outside. Not only was the venue’s parking lot closed to traffic, but neighboring South Willett and Monroe Streets and a few adjacent parking lots were as well, giving the occasion a true, block party feel. Local food trucks hawked their wares, as did a variety of merchandise vendors (Shitluck Clothing, Lumberjack Outfitters, tintype photography with Michael Foster, Oliver Peck and his Cheap Thrills line, etc) , most of whom remained steadily busy throughout the afternoon and well into the evening. But the focus, as you might expect, was on the music. Local singer/songwriter Louise Page (above) got things rolling under overcast but not quite rainy mid-afternoon skies. Page has only been in the business for a couple years but has steadily built a name for herself in Memphis, and it’s easy to see why, with elements of folk, pop and soul oozing throughout her melodies. A singer and piano player by trade, Page’s live sound was filled out by a five-piece band that consisted of drums, stand-up bass, violin, saxophone and trombone.

The inimitable John Moreland came next, accompanied by a full rock band of his own. That the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native isn’t household name on par with Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton seems nothing less than criminal, although I guess there’s something special about his once-in-a-generation voice being our little secret. Moreland’s forty-minute set primarily highlighted his last two albums, last year’s stellar Big Bad Luv and 2015’s flawless High On Tulsa Heat, with a revved-up, pitch perfect cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” tagged on as a raucous show closer.

The set change between Moreland and the next band on the docket, Rhode Island’s own Deer Tick, featured an appearance by The Mighty Souls Brass Band, a rotating group of musicians that includes former Lucero touring saxophone player Jim Spake playing their way through the crowd, an experience ripped right out of the French Quarter. While Deer Tick do, as stated, call the Ocean State home, they’ve become more involved in the Tennessee scene over the last handful of years; frontman John McCauley and his wife, Vanessa Carlton, have a Nashville home, and the band recorded both of their self-titled 2017 releases down the road from Minglewood Hall at renowned Ardent Studios. Deer Tick were followed by an hour-long set from the evening’s direct support, Turnpike Troubadours. Like Lucero, the Oklahoma-native Troubadours are road dogs in their own right, having spent more than a decade at this point touring like a punk rock band. While they play a style of music that’s a little more straight-forward country than you might be accustomed to reading about on the pages of Dying Scene, there’s a real storytelling aspect to frontman Evan Felker’s lyrics that make the music instantly more relatable.

While the afternoon and early evening’s happenings were an enjoyable gathering – even in spite of the occasional raindrops – of friends and families alike, this was clearly Lucero’s night. There were more than 4,000 people spread throughout the Block Party’s grounds by the time the band took the stage at a little after 8pm. When you’ve got twenty years and almost a dozen albums under your belt, it might be a little bit difficult to keep your rabid fanbase on their toes, but that’s just what they did, as Ben Nichols and the crew opened their celebratory set with “For The Lonely Ones,” a brand-new track off the band’s yet-to-be-released-or-even-formally-announced full length, due sometime in August on their new label home, Thirty Tigers (Jason Isbell, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, etc).

Eschewing their normal formula for improvising their way through a two-hour set, the band did curate a setlist for this particular special occasion. Roughly half of the new album was woven in to the set and because this is 2018 and the internet is a thing, aside from one or two songs that hadn’t been played anywhere yet, a solid number of the new tracks (especially “Bottom of the Sea” and “Cover Me”) were not only well-received by their fans but were greeted with the same audience singalong treatment that decade-old crowd favorites have long generated. The band dug deep into the catalog, including a rare appearance by the raw, gritty stomach-punch of “No Roses No More” from their self-titled 2001 debut album (revisited on these pages a couple years back). Jim Spake rejoined the band on stage on saxophone duties for a few tracks, but otherwise this was a night to celebrate the long-running core of the band that’s stayed together in spite of a handful of moving parts throughout the decades. Nichos and Venable founded the band and played that first warehouse show with a different rhythm section, but Roy Berry (drums) and John C. Stubblefield (bass) would join within the first year and have remained in pace ever since, while the multi-instrumentally talented Rick Steff brought his serious chops into the mix in 2006. The night even featured a proclamation from Memphis mayor Jim Strickland declaring April 14, 2018, to be Lucero Day in the city, in honor of the band’s twenty year legacy of serving as a “source of inspiration, encouragement and strength for listeners all over the world.”

Head below to check out our full photo gallery of the weekend’s triumphant festivities, and stay tuned for more on Lucero’s new album (and a special Father’s Day release) in the weeks to come!



DS Photo Gallery: Lucero Out-Heckle the Heckler in Hartford, CT (w/Jake La Botz)

After a couple of consecutive unfortunate show cancellations late last week, the good ship Lucero fired its well-traveled engines back up in Hartford, Connecticut, last Saturday, resuming a late winter tour that was initially paused on Thursday so that frontman Ben Nichols could fly to Arkansas for his grandmother’s funeral. The band had every intention of cancelling only that night’s show in Rhode Island and reconnecting in New Hampshire on Friday, only for Mother Nature to intervene in the form of a powerful winter storm that left Nichols unable to fly north and his bandmates rarely able to leave the confines of their tour bus for the better part of two days. The band finally reassembled as their full Voltron at the relatively new, 600-ish capacity Infinity Music Hall for what was by all accounts the band’s first headline gig in the capital of the Nutmeg State — we’re pretty sure they played Hartford on the Warped Tour in 2011 — which seems pretty remarkable for a band that’s spent twenty years earning a reputation as one of the hardest touring bands in the game. Much to the delight of all but one show-going knucklehead, the band seemed eager to get back into the swing of things as regularly as possible, making for a memorable, if slightly abridged, evening.

There was a time years ago when a Lucero show had the potential to go off the rails for a variety of reasons, many of which centered around the dysfunctional family dynamics that are present in any group of males working together, particularly when there’s alcohol involved. There’s less alcohol involved nowadays, meaning that a 2018-era Lucero live show has become less volatile but no less unpredictable for the band or the fans. No two sets are the same as Nichols calls shots that balance his instincts with feedback from an audience that’s generally rather lubricated in their own right, meaning his bandmates (Rick Steff on keys, John Stubblefield on bass, Brian Venable on guitar and Roy Berry on drums) have got to react on the fly. On this particular night, the Memphis-based quintet kicked their headline set off with crowd favorite “The Last Song” from their 2002 full-length, Tennessee. In this writer’s experience, this particular song has many times been reserved for later in the evening given the crescendo it builds to, so its early appearance was a welcome change of pace right off the bat. From there, things went in typical free-form fashion, with the band choosing to stick with the same album for the similarly crowd-pleasing singalong “Chain Link Fence” before taking the opportunity to showcase some brand new material. You see, Lucero have been hard at work on a follow-up to their last full-length, 2015’s All A Man Should Do, for a while now, and have slowly been working through some newer songs on stage in recent months (a trend that’s fallen by the wayside across the musical spectrum in the age of YouTube). Nichols’ pointing out that they were going to play a few new tracks, however, didn’t sit well with one particularly vocal gentleman at stage right who made his opinion rather well known early on.

The net result proved, for the young man, to be a fail of epic proportions, as a defiant Nichols led the band through four consecutive brand new songs – including the live debut of a song that seems to be called “Cover Me” which might be the strongest of an already strong bunch – until said young man made his way to the exit. The bulk of the crowd seemed mindful of the special nature of seeing so many new tracks played in order, heckler be damned. There seemed to be nary a hiccup, as the new tracks seem to fit naturally in the Lucero lexicon. I’ll shy away from specific spoilers except to say that “Cover Me” and “To My Dearest Wife” and “Everything Has Changed” sound like songs that were written by 2002 Lucero but performed by 2018 Lucero. Trust me, that’ll make sense when you hear them.

Most of the remainder of the set found the band calling on an ever-expanding number of audience favorites. “Texas & Tennessee,” “All Sewn Up,” “It Gets The Worst At Night,” “Nights Like These” and “On My Way Downtown” made requisite, raucous appearances. When he wasn’t at the mic, Nichols spent a greater-than-average amount of time pacing the stage, giving the impression of somebody who was working through a bit of a cathartic experience. Steff was his typically stoic, stabilizing self on stage left, and his stage-right bookend Venable’s understated leads seemed dialed in. I’ve said before on these pages that Berry is one of my favorite drummers to spend time watching, and that was still true on this evening. There’s in improvisational quality to his playing that’s in line with the rest of the set; just because you’ve heard him play “Tears Don’t Matter Much” a dozen times doesn’t mean you’ve ever heard him play it the same way more than once. Stubblefield left the stage at one point to get seasick over the side of the boat but somehow didn’t miss a beat holding down the low end (and that’s obviously not true, but it’s an inside joke that only he and probably mu wife will understand and I’m mostly just seeing if he’s reading this). The Nichols solo track “Loving,” penned for his filmmaker brother Mike’s film of the same name, seemed especially fitting as played on what happened to be the eve of an Oscars ceremony for which it was robed of even a nomination. “I Can’t Stand To Leave You” off 2012’s Women & Work was a personal favorite, as it’s the first time I’ve actually heard them play it.

But without question, no song was more poignant and heartfelt than “The War.” Accompanied my the multi-instrumentally talented Rick Steff on accordion, the song finds Nichols telling the stories of his World War II-veteran grandfather’s time as a member of the US Army. Many of those stories were told to Nichols over the years by the very grandmother whose funeral he had just returned from, giving the moment a special, albeit heavy, weight. Heckler aside, the only sour note of the evening was the venue’s hard 10:45pm curfew, meaning the band that’s capable of some fairly long sets had to cut things off at around 90 minutes or so. Nit-picking, I know.

Kicking the evening off at 8:00pm sharp was the mighty Jake La Botz. Very much the quintessential renaissance man, La Botz has been one of the more underrated folk-Americana songwriters in recent memory. He frequently tours solo, though this run opening for Lucero finds La Botz fronting a trio, with Brad Tucker (upright bass) and Phil Leone (drums) serving as the rhythm section, providing a bit of depth and foundation for La Botz’s soulful stories and imaginative guitar riffs to shine. If you’re not familiar with La Botz’s catalog, last year’s Sunnyside is as good a place as any to start, as the tracks featured were particularly well-received by the devout Lucero crowd.

Head below for our full photo gallery from the highly enjoyable evening!



DS Photo Gallery: An Evening with Ben Nichols and Jared Hart at Crossroads in Garwood, NJ

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.

Head below to check out our photo gallery!