Lucero at The Middle East, Cambridge, MA 10/18/09

I heard someone in the crowd telling a friend, “The last time I saw Lucero was on a boat.” They had a slide guitarist that night, but I was thinking that if you hadn’t seen or heard Lucero in 18 months, seeing them Sunday night would have been something of a shock. Lucero officially added keyboardist Rick Steff and slide guitarist Todd Beene to the band, cementing the lineup of the last couple shows I’ve seen. And at least on this tour in support of their new album 1372 Overton Park, they’re playing with a three piece horn section. Adding 5 (FIVE!) additional people to a 4 piece band will obviously change things.

1372 Overton Park features horns on every track except the last, so it was pretty clear Lucero would bring a horn section on the road for at least this tour, but I wondered how they’d work the horns in with the older material. If I remember correctly, the solution was a set list that looked like this: a couple of new ones with horns, a couple of old ones with horns, a couple of new ones with horns, a couple of old ones with horns, horns take a break while band plays a couple of old ones, Ben with slide and keyboards, horns come back for a couple of new ones, a couple of old ones with horns, a new one with horns, thank you, good night. Mixing the horns in and out, was something that may have been better suited to 2 distinct sets, but I’m not sure how that would have flowed.They didn’t play “What are you Willing to Lose” (which they skipped the night before in New York), unfortunately, but they did hit most of the new album, along with a rousing version of “The Blue and The Gray” “The War”, “Mom”, “Chain Link Fence”, “I Can Get Us Out of Here”, “All Sewn Up”, and “Last Pale Light” from Ben’s solo album.

Overall, it was a solid set, lacking some of the drunken sloppiness that had characterized shows from a couple years ago (though we got some of that towards the end, too). The last couple shows have been more sober than the first couple I saw, and while previously, that relative sobriety brought something of a stiffness to the sets, the band seems to be growing into it more.

I also sensed something of a self-consciousness to the band’s set choices… Lucero likes playing and cares about their fans, to be sure, but a two hour set is long for a band with punk rock roots. I wondered if that was acknowledgment of the $20 ticket price. A price, by the way, which probably kept the Middle East from selling out, but just barely, as the room was mostly full. (Incidentally, Lucero played for OVER 2 hours this spring at the Paradise, and tickets were $15 then, so who knows.) Mixing the horns in and out, was something that may have been better suited to 2 distinct sets, but I’m not sure how that would have flowed. There was definitely a desire to play the new songs, but also a willingness to take requests from the crowd for old songs, even if horn arrangements weren’t prepared for those songs. Maybe by the end of the tour it will be horns all night, but I couldn’t tell if that was the plan.

A note about the sound. I had planned to watch the show from the raised bar area at stage right, but the sound was so bad up there I retreated to the floor in the middle of the first song where the sound was fine (after a song or 2). I think it might have been an issue with the stage volume being too loud for the sound guy to mix appropriately, but the sound on the floor straightened out eventually, while the sound on the raised bar area never did.

I’m interested to see Lucero next time around. Have they kept the horns and added arrangements to all of the old songs, reworked the new songs to accommodate missing horn lines, or have they done what they did Sunday and mixed it all together? This last option would surprise me. Frankly, Lucero has a relatively standard base sound and song structure; 2 guitars, bass, drums, no crazy solos, versechorusbridgerepeat, etc. And yet, as a band, they’ve continued to grow, as songwriters and as performers, while continuing to write songs that resonate with their fans. Because of this, it’s unlikely they’ll come back through town without changing something up, which is about all you want from a band.

Lucero at The Middle East, Cambridge, MA 10/18/09

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