TVD Live: Lucero and Ryan Bingham at the 9:30 Club, 3/14

Tour packages can be a funny thing. Sometimes the bands are all similar, and sometimes the combination of styles may leave you scratching your head. Now and then, you get a tour that is just different enough, yet has sufficient common ground to make that perfect peanut butter and jelly combination. Such was the case last Saturday night at the 9:30 Club when Lucero and Ryan Bingham brought their gritty Southern sounds to the District.

The night was off to an odd start as a sign on the front door stated that opener Twin Forks would not be playing this evening. Word quickly spread that the band relayed through a Facebook post mere hours earlier that their van had been broken into and all of their gear had been stolen—an awful occurrence that happens all too often in recent times.

Just after 9pm, Lucero took the stage. Being a co-headlining tour and alternating the closing spot, tonight Lucero had first shift duties. Led by the unmistakable gravelly voice of singer Ben Nichols, the band opened with “Women and Work” as the temperature in the already-warm club rose rapidly. As they made their way through “Sounds of the City” and “Nights Like These,” the addition of the horns mixed with the unfancy rock and the sweet sounds of Rick Steff on the organ gave their sound an old-school feel with new-school attitude.

Part of the appeal of Lucero is their total disregard for the rulebook. Sometimes a bit more rock, other times more alt-country with a punk undercurrent, yet no matter what style each particular song might be, they all share a heartbeat that is uniquely Lucero.

As they played “Wasted,” the soul, emotion, and pure heartbreak bled forth from the speakers and you felt every bit of pain that the lyrics conveyed. “Drink ‘Til We’re Gone” and “Darken My Door” continued that flow of emotion and showing off the band’s layers of deft songwriting. The band exited the stage except for Nichols and Steff, who traded his organ for an accordion for a somber, moving version of “The War.”

The band returned and the mood got lighter as Ben Nichols had a laugh about “the whiskey getting the better of him.” He further expounded upon the adage that Lucero has “got a reputation as a hard drinkin’ band…it doesn’t mean we’re a good drinkin’ band,” which garnered some laughs and raised glasses from the crowd. Lucero’s set drew to a close and many retreated outside to the cool night for a few minutes.

Opening with “Dollar a Day,” Ryan Bingham immediately lamented, “Well, I’ve been workin’ in the goddamn sun/With just for a dollar a day…” Rounding out a night of two of music’s best raspy voices, Ryan’s gritty vocals were a sweet match to his style of country. Sporting a Dylanesque hat, Bingham’s music effectively transports the listener south to a warm Texas day. As the band played “Bordertown” and his new single, “Broken Heart Tattoos,” the crowd clapped and danced along to the music.

Armed with an exceptional backing band, Bingham showed how clearly separated from the pack of modern pseudo-country artists he is, opting to stay in the smaller minority of performers defying the bro-country aesthetic. After playing “Hard Times,” there was a brief interlude for some in the crowd having a hard time of their own as a fight broke out toward the front. The fray was settled and “Sunrise” began.

A real highlight of the night followed “Sunrise” when the members of Lucero joined Bingham onstage for an outstanding collaboration on The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The spirit of Levon Helm flowed through the 9:30 Club as Nichols and Bingham alternated on vocals. The song morphed into an amazing jam session to close out the set.

Returning to the stage, Bingham and his band ended the night with “Sunshine” and the slide guitar-driven, foot-stompin’ “Bread and Water.” So ended a night where no frills were to be found and a great musical pairing resulted in a terrific tour. We can only hope for more collaboration between Lucero and Ryan Bingham in the future.

LUCERO

RYAN BINGHAM

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