TVD Live: Lucero at the 9:30 Club, 3/21

The first thing I noticed walking into the 9:30 Club for Wednesday night’s performance  was the huge backdrop hanging from the ceiling behind the stage. On it is an artist’s rough depiction of an ashtray dimpled with cigarette butts and a bar glass of whiskey beside it. Written in what looks like handwritten letters was “Lucero, Women & Work” (the name of their current album). Upon seeing it, I thought to myself, “Is this looming red and white draped signage a summation of the kind of smoke and grit music we are in store for tonight?”

It could very well be that the artwork is an homage to the stylish and almost melancholy spirit of Lucero’s body of work. Perhaps it’s even more than that. Maybe it’s a reminder that the simpler things in life are what we all can relate to: beautifully woven tunes, smoking cigarettes in between sips of whiskey, or a reminder of our vices and regrets. Whatever the case may be, we were in for a night of the old-time, juke-joint style musical offerings that only Lucero can offer.

Lucero, from Memphis, Tennessee, offers up the perfect blend of rock, country, and southern-punk style. Known as one of the hardest working bands in the business, there is no reason to doubt why. With eight full-length albums to date and countless stretches of tours to their credit, there is no doubt this band lives up to their road-worn reputation.

With his gritty, weathered voice, front man Ben Nichols has just as distinctive a voice as music legends Johnny Cash and Tom Waits. The roughness in Nichols’ voice makes every lyric and every observation that comes out of his mouth even more soulful and more believable. Traveling with a full band equipped with a horn section, Nichols and Lucero hit the road hard for this tour, sounding fuller and better then ever.

Lucero as a band is as transparent as modern touring musicians can be. There are no egocentric rock stars here, just real people playing real music that they so obviously believe in. Songs and musicians like this are especially necessary for us tortured souls who live and laugh and love and drink; yes, we’re still out there. It seems to me to be just as relevant today to play songs like Lucero’s “Slow Dancing” and “My Best Girl” while you’re drinking your troubles away than it did to sulk to classics like Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Tear in My Beer” in days of old. Lucero’s tone and mood are every bit as powerful and memorable.

The one thing that amazed me about Lucero is the approachability of the band even during their performance. They might have had a loose plan when they walked on stage, but it certainly seemed like they didn’t follow a set list of any kind. They worked on whispers and nods in between songs, and, about four songs into their set, the lovely young women behind me screamed out a request for “Kiss the Bottle.” This is always a sign of good things to come.

Toward the middle of the night, another tradition ensued. About every other song or so, random audience members from the front row would hand Ben a shot glass of liquor. Pausing for a quick joke and a smile, Nichols would hold the glass in the air, almost toasting to the audience. Before taking a sip, you’d hear him utter “Why don’t I stop talking and drink this,” then follow with “Yeah, that’s Jack Daniels.” Then, “This one’s definitely Jameson,” followed by, “Now what song do you want to hear?” to the gentleman who handed him the drink. He was trading songs for drinks, perhaps honoring the crowd for their good intentions. “This might be one of the nicest crowds I’ve ever seen,” he later said, going into the song “All Sewn Up,” during which the entire club seemed to have screamed along.

I don’t know you feel when you listen to Lucero, but when I put them on, it’s like talking to an old friend, and the best kind of friend at that They’re the kind of friend who suffers with you when you are down and rocks out with you when you are up. Seeing them play live is no different; it’s like finding a lost love.

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