Lucero and post-holiday spirit(s)

by Ryan Snyder

“I think it fits the mood,” Lucero frontmanBen Nichols said as he announced theband was just about to play “Wasted” for thefirst time in six months. Though the actualcontents of the song and the condition heapplied to it in front of the post-Christmascrowd at Ziggy’s last Tuesday night differedfundamentally, only the immediate contextmattered. More than an hour into theirheadlining set, the scraggly, trucker-hat- andcheckered-shirt-adorned Nichols had beenon the receiving end of more shots than thelocal snitch, and more were on the way.

You have to give the Memphis-bred country-punks credit —the band sticks with what they know will resonate with theirmotley fan base. The country pokes get down with the gooddrinking songs, the paeans to heartbreak and hard living resonatewith the No Depression crowd, and the overgrown hardcorekids just seem to dig all the tattoos. 2009’s 1372 Overton Parkwas filled with Muscle Shoals revivalisttunes like the boot-stomping boogie of“The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo,”twang-laden tearjerkers like “Can’t Feela Thing” and the Springsteen-channeling“Hey Darlin’, Do You Gamble?” Ofcourse, they weren’t the first punks toretro-fit country into their aesthetic —Jason Isbell had already brought hornsinto the equation before Lucero thoughtof it — but their mash-up of E Streetsoul, blue-collar attitude, unconventionalguitar chords and exacting executioncasts as wide a net as any. From thesounds of it, the band is headed everdeeper into that direction.

The band’s winter tour has largely beena prelude to their next album, Women &Work, and based on the new selectionsLucero brought to the Ziggy’scrowd, the subject matter may notbe getting an overhaul, but the bandis inching closer to a more devoutcountry sound. Hints of future sounds wereheard in Nichol’s stripped down 2009 solorelease The Last Pale Light in the West, butmay not be fully realized until the new album’sMarch 2012 issuing. Their performance of thealbum’s title track evoked the fiery honky tonkof the Derailers with exceptional presence bythe burly guitarist Brian Venable, while the tenuouslytitled “On My Way Downtown” withits big, brassy punctuation calls forth the greatEddie Floyd. Of course, their 25-plus song settouched on the older four-piece arrangementsas well. The old sad ones like “I’ll Just Fall”and “My Best Girl” found it hard to make useof the two-man horn section, but the responsefrom the crowd was evident regardless as thelatter’s guitar break brought whiskey glasses tothe air and high fives all around.

Lucero’s set was markedly light on theballs-out, fist-pumping rockers that markedtheir last work as a quartet, however. Theall-audience scream-along “Nights LikeThese” was like a shiv to the ribs amidstthe hazy “It Gets Worse at Night” and thesprawling epic “Here at the Starlite.” Yet,the gravel-voiced Nichols has a way of imbuingevery song with a disarming presencethat makes them feel bigger and more urgentthan they would appear as notes on a page.“I Can’t Feel a Thing” bristled with grungyangst amidst a languid arrangement, but itwas his rusty growl and not the horns andpedal steel that forged the connection to theshot-swilling audience.