LUCERO: At Bell’s Eccentric Cafe 4/7/16

11 Apr


WHAT HAPPENED:  Lucero, a no frills band of Memphis road warriors turned in a rewarding two-hour set at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe Wednesday night, pleasing a packed house of fans.

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?:  Fronted by singer/guitarist Ben Nicholls, Lucero defy easy description.  Their sound is a ragged-but-right mix of rock, country and soul that’s equal parts Muscle Shoals and CBGB.  It’s a sound that’s unique to the mid-south and shared by other bands from the region, most notably Alabama’s Drive By Truckers.  Too country for the indie rock crowd and a little too indie rock for the “No Depression” set, Lucero’s carved out its niche through near constant touring and several consistent albums over the past 15 years.

THE SHOW:  The band doesn’t provide much in the way of a stage show–lighting is minimal and for its part, the band mostly just shuts up and plays, with bassist John Stubblefield’s occasional raising his axe above his head while playing about as theatrical as the band gets.  For his part, Nichols is a genial frontman, engaging in honest, non-scripted interactions with the audience and often introducing songs with stories about their origins.

Things started quietly, with Nichols playing acoustic and the band focusing on quieter numbers for most of the first hour, which included Lucero tunes old and new as well a handful of songs from Nichols’ 2009 solo outing, even reaching back to a track  Nichols contributed to his brother’s 2012 film “Mud” (starring Matthew McConaughey).  Although this part of the set was well received by the crowd, Nichols seemed almost apologetic, knowing the audience was likely in the mood for some of the band’s rowdier material.  After a short break mid-set, Nichols strapped on the electric guitar and the pace picked up mixing driving rockers and more textured mid-tempo rockers which showed the band’s range.  Particularly effective was Rick Steff whose work on keys and accordian provided many of the night’s instrumental highlights. A rousing “I Can Get Us Out of Here Tonght” from 2006’s “Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers” was a high point, spurring much of the crowd into a mixture of pogo-ing and fist pumping.

THE SCENE: For a band with little public profile, Lucero has a loyal following and I was surprised by how many hard-core fans sung along with every tune.  The room was packed and it was obvious the band appreciated the fans’ loyalty and passion.  Bell’s, with a capacity of under 300, was a perfect spot for the band. Kudos to the sound crew that opted for clarity over volume, allowing fans to appreciate the various layers and textures in Lucero’s music.

OPENER: Tulsa based singer/songwriter John Moreland won over more than a few admirers with an excellent solo acoustic set focusing mostly on the the dark side of relationships. A large man, Moreland cuts an imposing figure on stage but his songs reveal a surprising vulnerability and sensitivity to human nature.

THE VERDICT: Lucero isn’t the sort of band that’s going to throw you many curve balls or surprises.  They know who they are–a meat and potatoes, workmanlike band and they deliver a tight, professional set befitting of a band of aging road warriors.  While that might not make for a transcendent night of music it does provide more than its share of small pleasures.  GRADE B.






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