Lucero and a Bottle of Christmas Cheer December 23, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: Amy LaVere, Ben Nichols, Christmas, concert, Drink Till We're Gone, Lucero, Memphis, Minglewood Hall
When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? The Nativity? Santa Claus? Reindeer with mutant powers?
How about a concert by Memphis Southern rock heroes, Lucero?
If that last one isn’t on your list, it should be. Last night I had the opportunity to catch Lucero’s Holiday Show at Minglewood Hall in Memphis and it was truly a night to remember.
I arrived at the venue shortly before the listed start time of 8:00, grabbed a beer, and soon met up with friends from Arkansas and Memphis who were also in attendance. We took a spot pretty close to the stage, sipped our beverages, and visited, catching up on the happenings in our lives and chatting about our shared love of music.
Opening act Amy LaVere hit the stage around 8:15, grasping her upright bass tightly, plucking and caressing the strings with a lover’s touch. Her lovely appearance was enhanced by the macabre nature of her songs, as tales of death and murder poured forth in a fountain of Southern gothic imagery. Opening with the strong bass line of “Washing Machine,” she and her band tore through several numbers from her three albums like “You Can’t Keep Me,” “Red Banks,” “Stranger Me,” the timely and appropriate “Pointless Drinking,” and one of my favorite tunes of the year and one that she described as “the only love song I know how to write, “Damn Love Song.” It was a great set from an incredible Memphis artist.
Lucero hit the stage around 9:30, with vocalist Ben Nichols, skinny and heavily tattooed, taking the center. He smiled at the adoring crowd of several hundred, “We thought about doing a different opener, but, ah, what the hell?” and the band launched into their standard set starter, “That Much Further West,” the song building to a crescendo with Nichols’ whiskey-soaked vocals masterfully leading the multitude of fans in a huge singalong, taking on the role of pastor to his flock of loyal followers, turning them into a single organism, moving and singing as one.
It was obvious that he and the band were glad to be home and hugely grateful to their legion of fans, so much so that they played and played, tearing through an unbelievable setlist, one that lasted more than 3 full hours. There were old favorites like “My Best Girl,” “Raising Hell,” and the encore opening “Drink Till We’re Gone.” They played a killer “Chain Link Fence” (my 9 year old daughter’s favorite song), a church choir-like “Nights Like These,” and ripped through favorites like “She’s Just That Kind of Girl,” “Sixes and Sevens,” and “Can’t Feel a Thing.” The band was in rare form, laying their claim to not just Minglewood Hall, but the entire city of Memphis, showing once again that they are the city’s rock stars, and one of the greatest “unknown” bands working in America today. At some point, Ben broke out a bottle of tequila and in between the killer songs, he took time to address the crowd, talking and joking with everyone like they were old friends (and I’m sure many of them were). As they neared the end of their encore, my friends and I looked at each other, bewildered, running through song lists in our minds and wondering what could possibly be left to play. When the final song kicked in, my friend Chris and I looked at each other and nodded, a knowing look in our eyes, “Tears Don’t Matter Much.” Of course.
After the show, as the clock neared the 1:00 mark, we stood around as the building slowly emptied, soaking in the last bits of the atmosphere floating about, breathing it in before stepping back out into the cold December night of Memphis. We knew we had just witnessed something really special, a momentous occasion that would stick with us, perhaps even forever. Of all the Lucero shows I’ve seen, this one may have topped them all. But, before we exited the building, there was another pleasant surprise in store: the band came out to visit and meet with the few who stayed behind. I had the chance to say hello to Amy LaVere, to tell guitarist Brian Venable about my Lucero-loving daughter and the band shirt I bought her for Christmas, and I got to meet and visit with Ben Nichols himself after the show. And though I only had a few moments with them, you could tell that they were real, down-to-earth kinds of people who were grateful for their fans and happy to do what they do.
And Ben posed for a picture with me, which I thought was pretty awesome too.
“Life is short
In spite of your plans
So tell the girls they’re all pretty while you can
‘Cause one day they’re gone
And all you got left’s
An empty bottle and an old country song”