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

The Last Pale Light In The West – Ben Nichols (2008)

Based on the book Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, The Last Pale Light In The West is a solo effort by Ben Nichols of Lucero. It’s weird, an EP based on a book, but every song, even the my least favorite, is great. 4 stars, instead of 5, because all of the songs sort of sound the same, which ends up being fine, actually, but might rub some of you the wrong way.

The Last Pale Light In The West – Ben Nichols (2008)

Interview with Ben Nichols of Lucero – Couple Weeks Late

I had tried to set up an interview with someone in Lucero ahead of their show in April at the Paradise, but it didn’t get done. I sent over some questions anyway and woke up yesterday to find some answers by Ben Nichols in my inbox. Awesome. Some regular rock n’ roll stuff in here, but I was happy to hear more background on their songs about sailors and soldiers.

Note: I sent in questions before I knew about Lucero’s appearance on MTV’s $5 Cover. We’ll have to pretend I asked “$5 Cover, what’s it like being on MTV?” Leave your best Ben Nichols impersonation answer in the comments.

For a rock band from the South, Lucero has grown pretty rapidly in the Northeast (Boston, NYC, DC, etc). Aside from touring all the time, hard work, and rocking, is there anything else you think might be behind it?

I think in general Lucero songs are pretty simple and straightforward. So it’s stuff most folks can relate to. Maybe that’s part of the connection. Nothing too mysterious in the lyrics… heartbreak, loneliness, booze. Stuff most folks encounter.

Are you experiencing that type of success in other areas of the country? And how was Europe?

We’ve been lucky. Over the years a lot of towns have really come around. It’s real nice being able to play to great crowds on both coasts and lots of places in between. Europe still is gonna take some work. But we’ve had some real good shows in Spain and the U.K.

I was a tour manager for several years and while I hated the time in the van, it’s the time I look back most fondly on. What’s your favorite part about being on tour? Least favorite?

Favorite part is getting to see friends we’ve made all over the country. Folks we might hardly ever see otherwise. And also meeting lots of great bands. We just did a tour with Black Joe Lewis and all those guys are great and now we’ll stay in touch with them and that’s kinda bad ass. Stuff like that. Least favorite is the waiting around.

We used to look forward to particular cities for days in advance because of a particular restaurant or type of food we could get (ribs in Memphis, Little Rock, NOLA, etc)

We look forward to certain bars with the nice bartenders.

Got a favorite place to play?

Lots of ‘em actually. Florida, Colorado, All the West Coast. And Boston is always fun. Actually there’s too many to name. Chicago, Austin, Richmond, on and on.

Lucero seems to tour non-stop. Any plans to slow that down a bit?

Maybe one day. Not any time soon.

You guys are working on some recording right now. Is there a new album in the works? Any change to how you’ve recorded albums in the past?

New album should be out in October of 2009. On this new one we had a lot of help from producer Ted Hutt. He did the last Gaslight Anthem record. He really pushed me songwriting wise. It was cool having somebody that involved in the whole process.

Memphis is landlocked, where do all the sailing songs come from? Also the army songs?

The ocean and ships are romantic. Maybe especially so because there aren’t either anywhere near Memphis. The army songs are mainly inspired by my grandfather who served in an infantry unit in Europe in WWII. But since then I’ve met a lot of guys in the service and some of them have worked their way into songs as well. Like “Last Night in Town.”

How have you used the internet to get the message out about Lucero in ways you maybe couldn’t have done a couple years ago?

Sure. Although I’m not on a computer very often myself. Apparently a lot of other folks are.

Is there a part of the music business (besides lame Q+As) that you hate? Love?

Reading music magazines always depresses me. Reviews of any record are hard to read sometimes. It’s such a personal thing (music) but at the same time it’s out there for any half wit to comment on. I pretty much ignore that side of it. The good and the bad. We’re not exactly known as a hip band and that’s just fine with me. Couldn’t really change what we do if we wanted to anyways.

Any questions for me?

Hell. I think that about covers it.

PS: Lucero Announces Completion of New Album on Universal

Interview with Ben Nichols of Lucero – Couple Weeks Late