Brian Bartels

If the Pogues embody the Jameson-addled anthems of Ireland, Lucero turns the whiskey into bourbon aged in Tennessee oak and chased by a Bud.



City: New York, NY
Venue: Bowery Ballroom
Date: 2006-11-12

If the Pogues embody the Jameson-addled anthems of Ireland, Lucero turns the whiskey into bourbon aged in Tennessee oak and chased by a Bud. Their sound is a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-take-a-deep-sniff kind of pure angst. It's like rain on the windshield as you drive through a cold November morning after a particularly regrettable evening. Raspy-voiced lead man Ben Nichols sings about themes associated with good loving and good drinking -- thieves, love, getting drunk, and losing control -- in a world where getting into trouble with a lady makes things turn thirsty fast. The band’s new album is distributed by Liberty and Lament Records, Lucero’s own independent label, which arose after their previous label went belly-up. Lucero moved one step ahead by shipping the new album out to pre-ordered customers before it was available in record stores. A good move, it allowed their die-hard fan base to get these new songs into their heads faster, and made it easier for them to sing along with every song when the band came through town (and trust me, these fans like to sing along). On a New York Sunday, Lucero landed in the Lower East Side, facing a crowd well warmed to the band’s blue-collar, 200-shows-a-year work ethic. The Bowery Ballroom’s entrance is a downstairs bar through which you have to pass in order to get to the main event space. I’ve been to dozens of Bowery shows, and, though the bar is always bustling with patrons, the Lucero crowd kept those bartenders especially busy. The band took the stage donning grins. Surprisingly, they weren’t drinking anything -- odd for guys who, in their music, wear their livers on their sleeves. The craggy whiskeymen wore black, with rolled-up t-shirts, cowboy boots, tattooed arms, and day-old beards. A T-Rex song blasted as the band strapped on their guitars and rolled up their sleeves. When the music stopped, lead singer Nichols said, “I was enjoying the T-Rex, actually.” Bassist John Stubblefield, clad in Johnny Cash’s signature black wardrobe and with his hair slicked back, personified his character by saying something nonsensical into the microphone. The lights dimmed, but there was enough left to catch a geyser of beer spraying the stage five seconds into the first song, and, as the crowds' fists began pumping, index fingers pointed to the sky. Nichols' voice is no less affecting live, his delivery an amalgam of gravel and cigarettes. It’s an instrument itself, and the experience of seeing the guy behind the Oz-like wall of vocals is surreal. I can think of only a few other singers blessed with such distinct tones. When the band tore into “Get Us out of Here Tonight,” the sense of communal engagement reached a fever pitch. The tune is a feel-good sing-along, something that Springsteen and the E Street Band could’ve written 20 years ago. Lucero’s consistent comparisons to the New Jersey icons have always been welcomed with open arms, and maybe even catered to: as he sang the song, Nichols was sporting a red bandanna in his back jean pocket, a la Born in the U.S.A. Lucero’s lyrics delve into heartbreak and often feature a speaker resisting the urge to do or say something that will have consequences. The expressions on people's faces around the club gave the impression that, at some point, everyone there had been burned by heartache and sorrow. Nichols has mentioned in interviews that his lyrics are “staying-up-all-night-and-waiting-for-someone-to-call music.” By the looks of the people waiting to hear more, everyone was aching to get that feeling back. Sometimes the pain really does hurt so good. Lucero apply an “awww shucks” lightness to their hard-rocking ways: “Last time we played here, I got so drunk I ended up in Red Hook [a neighborhood forty-five minutes away from Manhattan] crying like a little baby,” said Nichols. “I feel a little more well-behaved tonight.” He paused, humbled. “I think what I meant to say is it’s nice to be back.” The crowd ate it up, clambering for space near the stage, getting a little rowdy, sure, but doing it with a smile on their faces. Even the ladies were throwing some elbows in the pseudo mosh pit. It’s rare to see such controlled recklessness: people pushed each other with one arm while wrapping the other one around their opponent’s shoulder. On the balcony, a guy danced in place, pumping his fists into the air. A kid climbed onstage for the obligatory dive into the audience, and the supportive, feel-good crowd caught him before he crashed. (“Thank y’all for catching him,” Nichols commented.) There’s something inspiring about hipsters colliding near center stage and helping each other. People patted each other on the back while Nichols continued, “Y’all watch out fer each other.” That sentiment continued until a drunk fella got onstage during one of the band’s last songs, dancing around a little and exchanging lead vocals with Nichols before jumping back into the crowd. When the guest singer had returned to the audience, Nichols asked the crowd what the American Idol guy’s name was. The crowd responded, “Simon,” and Nichols said, “Good thing he wasn’t here tonight.” When he wasn’t leaning on the speakers during a song or two, Stubblefield got another chance to speak, mumbling something like, “Easy bros. You got some superheroes in New York here. We got some talkin’ walkin’ superheroes with us tonight,” followed by gibberish, to which Nichols responded, “I didn’t get that either. Let’s keep going.” And so they did. There’s no stopping this band, and so it’s fitting that they would finish their set -- sans encore -- with “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” and cap it by passing around a bottle of Maker’s Mark proclaiming, “Thanks for having us tonight, y’all. We’re Lucero. We don’t play encores. We make last call and then we do shots at the bar.” I’m sure they do, surrounded by a sea of well-wishers. After all, breakin’ up never felt this good

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.