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

forgetters at Great Scott, Allston, MA – 10/4/09

Forgetters at great scott When I interviewed Blake Schwarzenbach a couple weeks ago about his new band, forgetters (small f, no the), Schwarzenbach had mentioned that when Thorns of Life started last year, they weren’t interested in trading on anyone’s past to get a head start. That’s apparently still the case as forgetters took the stage at Great Scott on Sunday night for around 125 or so people, the last of 3 bands on a $6 bill. I imagine if they felt differently about playing up the past, the show could have been at a bigger venue, promoted differently, and more widely attended. At the very least, the ticket price at Great Scott could have been doubled. Still, 125 fans for a band’s 5th show is a strong showing, and I expect it will be a harder ticket it the next time they’re in town.

On stage, everyone looked to be having a good time, and Blake is back to eyes shut, neck strained screaming. I never saw Jawbreaker, but I didn’t see this the 2 times I saw Jets. The band seemed more polished than I’d expect for a 5th show, though there was a flub or two (‘Fuck You, Dad’ stopped after a few beats, reintroduced as ‘I’m Sorry, Dad, and started again). Although I don’t think I’ve heard any of the songs, a lot of them sounded familiar. There was the syncopated drumming of Kevin Mahon that punctuated a lot of the early Against Me! catalog. Aside from the drums, the songs sound like a mix between pre-Dear You Jawbreaker punk with bits of Jets to Brazil pop sprinkled in, which, you know, is nice. I don’t know how to explain it, but the songs sounded like they wanted to be recorded, which bodes well for the 7″ recording in October. Most importantly, the songs are good enough to stand on their own. They’re good enough to allow forgetters to build a following of it’s own, without trading on anyone’s past. I could probably get away with saying that everyone at Great Scott on Sunday was there because of Jawbreaker, but if forgetters lasts for 5 years (or more) as Schwarzenbach expressed hope that they would in our interview, that won’t always be the case. I’m looking forward to seeing them again after hearing their record.

forgetters at Great Scott, Allston, MA – 10/4/09

Rolling Stone’s Five-Star Rated Albums

Erik Heels, the most interesting of all patent attorneys, is mad that Rolling Stone makes it so difficult to find all of the albums rated with 5 stars. There’s not many of them, in fact, there were only 3 in the 90s, Slanted & Enchanted by Pavement, Automatic for the People by R.E.M., and Metallica by Metallica, and all of those were released by 1992. Also interesting is that most of the albums given 5 stars in the 2000s were reissues. Do those even count? Click through for the full list.

Rolling Stone’s Five-Star Rated Albums

The Revival Tour – Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music) – Tim Barry (Avail) – Ben Nichols (Lucero). The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

So there’s these punkers, right, and usually they’re playing with electric guitars and amps and drums, and then they go on the Revival Tour without their bands and with their acoustic guitars. They bring along a slide guitar player, a stand up bass player, and a fiddle player for support, and then the awesomeness happens. I liked it better when they were all playing together, but then Ben, Tim, and Chuck in that order.

The Revival Tour – Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music) – Tim Barry (Avail) – Ben Nichols (Lucero). The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

Avail, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

I saw Avail for the first time about 10 years ago and they’re still rocking the finger wagging sing along punk. You now get thrown out of the club for stage diving (which I’m too old for anyway) so the band kept promising to “announce when it was the last song”. They did, and mayhem ensued, which reminded me of the first time I saw them, every song was the last song, and they didn’t kick people out for stage diving (which I wasn’t too old for).

Avail, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA