Nerds Unite! February 3, 2012Posted by Matt in music, random.
Tags: Ben Nichols, Dungeons & Dragons, Jason Isbell, Lucero, nerds are cool, Ryan Adams
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I always thought I was just part of a select group of weirdoes, for it seemed the road I and a few friends traveled growing up was certainly one less traveled, one that might induce eye-rolling, side-glances from others.
We played Dungeons and Dragons.
As a teenager, the made up fantasy stories and characters were an integral part of my life and my friends and I would gather together on a regular basis to put our fates in the rolling of oddly shaped dice. Sure, it was dorky, but it was a lot of fun.
And it turns out we weren’t the only ones.
A few months ago, I learned that Ben Nichols (to take it even farther, he reportedly thanked his D&D character in the liner notes of their album Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers), lead singer of Lucero, remains an avid D&D gamer. Then today, while perusing my Twitter feed, I see that Ryan Adams, perhaps the greatest songwriter of my generation, has posted a picture of an AD&D rulebook. And, not to be denied, former Drive-By Trucker and singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jason Isbell, expressed his own excitement at playing.
Did I somehow step into the Twilight Zone or something? Are all of my favorite artists really as dorky as me? Sure, I haven’t seriously played in nearly 20 years, but all those late nights of storytelling and dice throwing still hold a special place for me.
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
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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”
Making Life Beautiful May 4, 2011Posted by Matt in love, music.
Tags: Ben Nichols, making life beautiful, music, Patrick Sanders, Patterson Hood, purpose of life
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Those of you who know me, know that I have a deep love for music. You know it because I’m always talking about some new album I’ve either just acquired or I’m looking forward to picking up or about a recent concert event I’ve attended or any other number of things. Music, then, is one of those things that gives my life meaning, that helps me to face every day in the shadow of the human condition always trying to cast its dark shadow upon us.
And it’s not just any music, either, it has to be something that speaks to me in a moment, that burrows itself into the recesses of my mind and soul, that can infect me, change me. I don’t usually find these things in the million-selling, stadium-playing acts that everyone hears about nationwide. For whatever reason, whether it be their lives of apparent opulence or their oftentimes bland sound, artists like these rarely hold that type of appeal to me. It just doesn’t seem real.
When I think about what makes music good and meaningful, I think about experiences. I think about standing in a smallish, darkened room watching a middle-aged Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers strain to get out the words of Southern fried darkness so inherent in his songs. He’s been doing this for years, decades even, without major success yet he keeps moving on with what he loves. I think about seeing Ben Nichols of Lucero stand in the pouring rain with tornado sirens going off in the background and the Mississippi rising on his left, but still singing the songs he loves. I think about watching my good friend Patrick Sanders on a stage in a small Midtown bar well after midnight on a Wednesday so that he can play his beloved songs.
That’s why I love music. I love the way that it moves and changes us, whether we are listeners or artists, how it speaks to us in ways that are seemingly so impossible to express.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life’s purpose and I know that there are any number of answers, from the textbook-sounding and mundane to the incredibly personal, but there is one in particular that I’m been contemplating recently. One that has invaded my mind and that seems so simple, yet in our world of deadlines and cubicles and one-upping our neighbors seems to get lost in the shuffle.
I think a purpose of life is to make this world a more beautiful place, to do something, however small, to alleviate some of the darkness pervading humanity that can so easily overtake us.
Do something. Write, compose, create, or heck, just love somebody.
Make the world a more beautiful place.
Best of 2009…So Far – Part 1 June 17, 2009Posted by Matt in Best of 2009.
Tags: 2009, Ben Nichols, Best Of, Conor Oberst, Dan Auerbach, M. Ward, music, Steve Earle, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
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It’s been nearly four years since I began my blogging adventure and every so often I feel obliged to give you a taste of the music I’ve been enjoying. In case you are interested, you can see my past picks for my year end music lists here:
Now that we have nearly reached the halfway point of this trip ‘round the sun, I thought I would let you know what albums I have enjoyed the most so far this year. Let me know what you think.
Ben Nichols – The Last Pale Light in the West
The only reason this excellent solo release from Lucero’s frontman did not make the list is because it is only an EP. Nichols’ raspy voice combines with acoustic guitar to make these gloomy, painful songs, all of which are based on Cormac McCarthy’s ultra-violent classic Blood Meridian, into a real thing of beauty.
15. Dan Auerbach – Keep it Hid
Over the past two years or so I’ve become a huge fan of blues-rock duo, the Black Keys, and even had the chance to catch them in Memphis last year. Auerbach is the guitarist and vocalist of that group and this, his first solo release, adds a few wrinkles to the duo’s usual loud guitar and drums approach. Though it may not be quite as strong as the Keys’ work, it is still very good and I was glad to see that the addition of more backing instruments does not diminish the effectiveness of the music at all.
Download: Heartbroken, In Disrepair
14. M. Ward – Hold Time
The retro sound of M. Ward is something that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the modern music industry. It goes down smooth and easy and you can just imagine a simpler time sitting around listening to it on an old transistor radio.
Download: Never Had Nobody like You
13. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
With a sound similar to that of shoegazing pioneers My Bloody Valentine or Jesus and Mary Chain, this debut album fills the niche nicely with its layers of guitar and ethereal vocals. In contrast to someone like MBV, the songs of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart echo JaMC in that they are easily distinguishable from each other and could stand quite well on their own.
12. Steve Earle – Townes
Singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who died from substance abuse in 1997 at the age of 52, is an oft-covered artist whose work influenced an entire generation of Southern musicians – including Steve Earle. Earle’s husky voice, sounding beaten down by the world about him, gives an entirely new dimension to Van Zandt’s work and the reverence he feels for the late songwriter is evident in his handling of the 15 songs on this album.
Download: To Live is to Fly
11. Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South
Oberst may be the most prolific artist of the last decade, having released 8 albums – 5 with the Bright Eyes, one with the band Desaparecidos, and two solo works. I don’t know yet if I like this album as much as last year’s self-titled release, but it is still a nice piece of work. Oberst’s quavering voice and Dylan-esque songwriting is always a welcome addition to the collection.
Download: Slowly (Oh So Slowly)
To be continued…
Free Music Friday: Ben Nichols May 15, 2009Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: Ben Nichols, Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, The Last Pale Light in the West
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Memphis has a rich music history running the gamut from Stax soul to Beale Street blues to Elvis to current acts like Justin Timberlake, but, like any other city in America, many of the best sounds are found beneath the surface, outside of the national mainstream. In terms of rock music, their is probably nobody in the Bluff City that better defines this than Lucero, a great southern rock band that has recently signed with a major label and could have a big future ahead of them. The band’s singer, Ben Nichols, has just released his first solo work, a seven song EP entitled The Last Pale Light in the West. The songs are based on the great Cormac McCarthy’s hyper-violent work Blood Meridian and this is the title track from that release. Enjoy.