Lucero was thrilling and raspy and redemptive last night at Denver’s Ogden Theatre. While heavy snows fell outside on Colfax Avenue, we all stayed warm and somewhat dry via a combination of combustible energy, communal body heat, and a generous lubrication of whiskey. Their punk-edged alt-country was authentic and earnest, swinging from wistful to rocking to full-blooded Memphis soul.
Frontman Ben Nichols impressed me in a number of ways, as his taut magnetic energy centers the stage through the sheer gravitation pull of his stage presence. First off, dude’s wiry and wily-looking, sinewed skinny arms covered in tattoos, hair standing up like he’s constantly disheveling it with his hands, white t-shirt and jeans with a red bandanna sticking out the back pocket. As my friend Josh and I decided, if he was in prison, despite his charms, he looks like he could definitely fuck your shit up. We also discussed what the difference was between a shank and a shiv. We did not settle the matter before Lucero began to rock, with this song from their new album, a fine example of what we were in for:
Sound Of The City – Lucero
All the elements I love about Lucero’s recorded music simply explode in concert. Even though the lyrics are often aching ones of loss or bad decisions, there is often a hearty streak of wild romanticism in the music, or sly turns of a phrase that made me smile (“I was kissing the bottle when I shoulda been kissing you”). This tour features the addition of two Memphis horn players (a sax and a trumpet) and, man — did that cut through the air superbly, those frissons of shiny brass sound classing up the joint last night. Along with six other band members (pedal steel, guitar, kickass drums, bass, keys, and Ben’s fronting) the stage was as crowded as the sticky floor.
I also had A Moment at that show last night, one that I won’t soon forget, one of those moments where you feel your insides get so hot and full of some sort of unexpected joy that you think something might burst. As I’ve mentioned before, “I Can Get Us Out Of Here” (from 2006′s Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers) is one of my very best-loved songs of the last five years or more. I’ve listened to that melody hundreds of times, and it is good for fist-pumping, fast driving, but also feeling the most plaintive kinds of yearning known by folks like Springsteen.
Trying to beat the storm last night, I was edging (very slowly) towards the door for every song after about halfway through the set. I just could not pull myself away, slick ice and fiery autocrashes be damned. After Ben worked through a gorgeous mini-set of solo material from the Cormac-McCarthy-inspired Last Pale Light of the West, I had given up hope of hearing my favorite song before prudence made me leave.
Suddenly the band took the stage again, and the familiar kickdrums thumped out as the band peeled into a simply blistering rendition of the song. The final guitar solo sounded more like epic transcendence than anything of recent memory, and as Brian Venable played the last note he threw his arms out to the side, cutting the hot air with electric finality. The sweet, sad piano refrain picked up, and Ben half-smiled when he sang, “Come on babe, don’t look so sad, you know it ain’t half that bad…” and in my creative imagination, he glanced in my direction. I felt like, yeah, you know… it really ain’t that bad.
I believed him.
[The setlist (and torrent) of last night’s show is here, already.
Lucero has some crazy dedicated fans. After last night, I kinda count myself as on my way.]