October 28, 2009

I wanna kiss you while the band’s playing rock ‘n’ roll :: Lucero in Denver last night


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.

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October 23, 2009

Win a Lucero poster (hey darling … do you gamble?)


Gravelly-voiced, unrelentingly rocking Memphis band Lucero engenders the most rabid of fans, and for good reason. Their songs pulse hot and true with the heart of rock and roll (yes, Huey, it is still beating).

Lucero comes through Denver on Tuesday night on their “Ramblin Roadshow & Memphis Revue” tour, in support of their sixth studio album 1372 Overton Park. The album is their major-label debut, and was produced by Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem). After a series of near misses, I think this time I will finally make it to be baptized into the cult. The show is rumored to be daunting in its intensity, but I hope mostly it won’t hurt.

To celebrate with us, talented Denver poster artist Alan Peters (Jupiter Visual) has offered a pair of posters to Fuel/Friends readers. The posters are three-color screenprints, 13″x20″ on kraft brown enviro-cardstock. They’re pretty damn cool.

TO WIN: The new album is named after the Memphis loft where the band used to live and make music, but also enviable: in the ’70s, 1372 Overton Park was a karate dojo where local resident Elvis Presley, among others, took lessons. Tell me a story in the comments about a place you used to live. I’ll pick two winners on Monday night before I go to bed.

1372_Overton_Park_cdNichols is one of the finest writers we have of music to accompany bitter disillusionment and heartbreak, but Lucero’s best songs also burst forth with a sort of irrepressible hope — here, in the shiny Memphis horns.

1372 Overton Park is out now; see you Tuesday at the show.

So what if all my heroes are the losing kind?
We ended up with nothing, but we put up a fight.

Well come on little darlin’, can’t you cut us all some slack?
‘Cause the winners they all took off babe, and they’re never coming back

What Are You Willing To Lose? – Lucero
(from the new album)

Hey Darling, Do You Gamble? – Ben Nichols of Lucero, solo
(great song with a Townes Van Zandt backstory, from this earlier post)

PS: This Lucero song is still one of my favorites from them — or from anyone for that matter. It’s made it onto near every mix CD I’ve made for the past 3 years.

Oct 23 – Varsity Theater – Minneapolis, MN *
Oct 26 – Aggie Theatre – Ft. Collins, CO †
Oct 27 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO †
Oct 29 – The Crocodile – Seattle, WA †
Oct 30 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR †
Nov 1 – Mezzanine – San Francisco, CA †
Nov 4 – The Casbah – San Diego, CA †
Nov 5 – The Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ †
Nov 7 – Longhorn Saloon – Ft. Worth, TX #
Nov 8 – Fun Fun Fun Fest – Austin, TX #
Nov 9 – Meridian – Houston, TX #
Nov 10 – Alabama Music Box – Mobile, AL #
Nov 12 – Club Downunder @ FL State Univ. – Tallahassee, FL #
Nov 13 – Czar – Tampa, FL #
Nov 14 – Lizzie McCormick Stage – Orlando, FL #
Nov 15 – Café Eleven – St. Augustine, FL #
Nov 17 – Visulite Theatre – Charlotte, NC #
Nov 18 – 40 Watt Club – Athens, GA #
Nov 19 – Valarium – Knoxville, TN #
Nov 20 – Orange Peel – Asheville, NC #
Nov 21 – Headliners – Louisville, KY #

* with Amy LaVere and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm
† with Jack Oblivian and John Paul Keith & the One Four Fives
# with Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm and The City Champs

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May 25, 2009

“Hey darlin’ …do you gamble?” :: Some new songs from Lucero

img_6951poster art by Denver’s JupiterVisual

Lucero brings their whiskey-soaked cowboy punk to Colorado this weekend, with shows in Aspen Thursday, at Denver’s Bluebird on Friday night and the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Saturday.

As I am wont to do, I’ve been trolling the internet in preparation for the show, seeing what Ben Nichols and Co have been up to since the 2006 release of Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers (listen to “I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight” and sit back in bliss).

Lucero is currently prepping their major label debut, due out this summer with Universal Republic. I came across an acoustic solo version of a new song called, “Hey Darling, Do You Gamble” performed by Ben Nichols, as well as ten full-band Lucero songs from various shows over the last couple of years — all candidates to make it onto the new album. According to a friend who caught their recent San Francisco show at Slim’s, “you’ll hear more piano infused in the new stuff and, dare I say it, an upbeat attitude.”

But listen first to this new song, which tells a story that Nichols teased out of a line from the Townes Van Zandt movie, Be Here To Love Me. I like listening to the raspy-voiced Ben telling of the interview with Townes’ third wife, how she was won over when Townes walked up to her and simply asked, “Hey darlin’……do you gamble?”

For her, that was enough.

Hey Darling, Do You Gamble (solo acoustic) – Ben Nichols

“Oh and I believe that you should run with me, for a while…”

And here are ten other ones to consider:

Sounds Of The City – Lucero
Lonesome Dogtown Nights – Lucero
The Devil And Maggie Chascarillo – Lucero
Can’t Feel The Pain (Never Learned A Lesson) – Lucero
Sixes and Sevens – Lucero
Hey Darling, Do You Gamble (full band, live) – Lucero
Darken My Door – Lucero
Johnny Davis – Lucero
What Are You Willing To Lose – Lucero
Goodbye Again – Lucero

ZIP: New Lucero songs, live

Check Lucero out this weekend if you are here in Colorado, or on one of the other tour dates leading up to the summer release.

I hear Ben Nichols has also been playing some of his solo material from the Cormac-McCarthy-inspired album Last Pale Light Of The West. This is a very good thing.

May 26 – The Bourquet, Boise, ID *
May 27 – Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City, UT *
May 28 – The Belly up, Aspen, CO *
May 29 – The Bluebird Theater, Denver, CO *
May 30 – The Fox Theater, Boulder, CO *
Jun 2 – Waiting Room, Omaha, NE *
Jun 3 – Varsity Theater, Minneapolis, MN *
Jun 4 – The Picador, Iowa City, IA *
Jun 5 – The Tupelo Elvis Festival, Tupelo, MS
(well heck!)
Jun 6 – Wakarusa, Ozark, AR
Jun 12 – NJ Maxwells, Hoboken, NJ
Jun 13 – NY Big Apple BBQ Block Party, NYC
Jun 18 – The Norva, Norfolk, VA
Jun 19 – Friday Cheers at Brown’s Island, Richmond, VA
Jun 20 – The Grey Eagle, Asheville, NC

*with Chuck Ragan

[thanks to the good fans on the Lucero Message Board for gathering the tunes]

February 22, 2009

Jenny lights her cigarette, wonders how she got in this mess


The NYC Taper recently posted a live Lucero show from Terminal 5, and tonight it sounds exceedingly good to me. Their writer who attended the Lucero show had never heard them before that night but was impressed. He says, “Led by Ben Nichols, Memphis-based Lucero seem to be cut from a different part of the same whiskey-soaked cloth as Drive-By Truckers and the Replacements that Bruce Springsteen had used to wipe his brow. They present a rollicking good time that would make seeing them in some boozy little southern fried bar a mind-blowing event.” (perhaps this will be my blessed fate at SXSW?)

There’s an urgency and driving-fast beauty to this song that has resonated with me since I first heard it in 2006, off their album Rebels, Rogues and Sworn Brothers. I still love the gritty rock-guitar riffs, the desperation in Ben Nichols’ voice paired with a thumping drumbeat that wildly echoes your own on that first date.

…Don’t look back don’t hesitate
Car’s outside and we can’t wait
Sunday morning is coming down

I can take you away from this
You got your life, he’s got his
Just set ‘em up, and knock ‘em down…

I Can Get Us Out Of Here (live in NYC) – Lucero

Get the full show here.

[image credit Brooklyn Vegan]

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November 17, 2008

New Ben Nichols (Lucero) solo: “The Last Pale Light In The West”

Ben Nichols of Lucero has a gravelly, urgent voice full of hard wilderness. I cannot fully tell you how excited I am by the fact that his new solo album The Last Pale Light In The West is inspired by the Cormac McCarthy book Blood Meridian, which I coincidentally just started reading last week. McCarthy is one of my favorite authors, and Nichols has the chops to compose the perfect atmospheric soundtrack to his writing.

STREAM: The Last Pale Light In The West – Ben Nichols

The seven song “mini-LP” was recorded this past summer with Rick Steff (Cat Power, Lucero) and Todd Beene (Glossary), and will be released January 2009 via Liberty & Lament / The Rebel Group.

In full band news, the formidable Lucero [previous lavish Fuel/Friends love] has signed to Universal, and they’ll be heading into the studio to record music for their 6th studio LP at the end of 2008, which is scheduled for release in summer 2009.

[Top photo credit the fantastic Denver photographer Todd Roeth]

October 21, 2008

Ben Nichols (of Lucero) and The Gaslight Anthem cover Johnny Cash

Today marks the release of All Aboard: A Tribute To Johnny Cash, featuring The Gaslight Anthem and Ben Nichols of Lucero in a one-two punch, along with artists like Chuck Ragan, Dresden Dolls (featuring Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady) and a variety of other punk/indie/Americana bands. Some artists I’ve not previously heard of, but they do the songs an interesting turn. Aside from a few missteps, in general the rough edges of this collection suit the songs well.


1. Man In Black – The Bouncing Souls
2. Country Boy – Fallen From The Sky
3. Wreck Of The Old ’97 – Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music)
4. Let The Train Whistle Blow – Joe McMahon (Smoke or Fire)
5. Delia’s Gone – Ben Nichols (Lucero)
6. God’s Gonna Cut You Down – The Gaslight Anthem
7. Cocaine Blues – The Loved Ones
8. Give My Love To Rose – OnGuard (feat. Jason Shevchuk of Kid Dynamite and None More Black)
9. I Still Miss Someone – Casey James Prestwood (Hot Rod Circuit)
10. Hey Porter – MxPx
11. Cry, Cry, Cry – The Flatliners
12. Ballad of a Teenage Queen – The Dresden Dolls feat. Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady
13. Folsom Prison Blues – Chon Travis (Love = Death)
14. There You Go – The Sainte Catherines
15. I Walk The Line – Russ Rankin (Good Riddance, Only Crime)

Bonus Track/Vinyl only: Delia’s Gone (Alternate Version) – Ben Nichols (Lucero)

All proceeds benefit the Syrentha Savio Endowment for underprivileged breast cancer patients; we can all rock for breasts. That seems like a pretty unifying and worthy cause. Buy the album for ten bucks on Anchorless Records.

Also, good neighbors take note: Ben Nichols and Chuck Ragan are playing (along with Tim Barry, Jon Snodgrass and Austin Lucas) tomorrow and Thursday nights in Colorado as part of this “Revival Tour.” Hallelujah.

July 11, 2006

I can get us out of here tonight

A friend of mine told me I should check out the new song from Memphis alt-country rockers Lucero over at Muzzle of Bees, and it has just made my musical month.

This is an advance track from Lucero’s upcoming September release Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers, and I will have a hard time waiting until then to hear the rest of this album. Not to shortchange Lucero with endless comparisons, but to me it’s like the best signatures of a young, urgent Springsteen written all over this song. When Ben Nichols sings “I can get us out of here tonight,” it’s that same burning twinge that Springsteen makes you feel in your soul that makes you want to throw caution to the wind, roll down the windows, and take off on the interstate.

I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight – Lucero

Gritty rock-guitar riffs pair with a thumping drumbeat that wildly echoes your own on that first date, with vocals that capture that manic raspy quality of Westerberg. While it doesn’t exactly compare with the poetic perfection & richness, the lyrical imagery echoes some of my favorite Springsteen creations like the dancing across the porch of “Thunder Road,” all the madness in my soul of “Born to Run.” There’s a sweetly-named girl (Jenny, Wendy, Mary, irrelevant), a fast car, and a need to escape.

Listen at 3:41 when the electric guitar cuts out, leaving just the sweetly nostalgic piano and these lyrics:

“Jenny lights her cigarette, wonders how she got in this mess
Saturday night, wrong side of town

Set em up, knock em down
Well come on babe, don’t look so sad

You know it ain’t half that bad . . .”

The way he sings it, I am in love. “Don’t look back, don’t hesitate. The car’s outside, we can’t wait. . . I can get us out of here tonight.” Let’s go. The night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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