Lucero at First Avenue, 4/4/12

Categories: Last Night
Lucero_Press.jpg
Lucero.com

Lucero
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, April 4, 2012

If the Replacements had come from Memphis they would have been Lucero. Hard-drinking, self-deprecating and hardly ever winning in the end, the punkish/alt-country band, led by Ben Nichols, have a slew of gravelly-voiced, gritty tales of woe and the other guy winning that are often familiar but, up until their latest release, Women & Work, had an inspired spin on them most of the time. As Wednesday night unfolded at First Avenue it became more and more obvious that W&W is very possibly the weakest offering by the band thus far, however. Only time will tell if it was just a misstep.


The show opened with a couple of new ones, which were sort of fun, but as they started in with the brilliant "Nights Like These" from 2002's Tennessee it sort of wiped out what had come before it, a pattern that would continue for the rest of the two-hour set. The title track from Women & Work with its catchy, slightly funny chorus. "Women and work and booze in between" was one of the night's few standouts among the new material, even with Nichols botching the lyrics in the song's closing moments. "Sorry, I blacked out at the end there -- I blame my sobriety." He joked. But even so, a wrenching version of "The War" came soon after and reminded everyone what Lucero was capable of.

As the show continued, a pattern emerged: a couple of old songs that built up steam and then a new one that would drag the energy down again. The band seemed to be fighting with it the entire night but the new songs just don't fit in as well with the old material as they could or should. Bands should always be growing and willing to try new things but Lucero's older songs (even when they were new) had a worn patina on them; they were comfortable, lived in. The new songs didn't have that feel in the least. They seemed almost glittery by comparison. "All Sewn Up" from their self-titled 2001 debut was a perfect example of the former, while "Juniper" from the new record illustrated the latter perfectly.

As the set began to wind down, Nichols informed the band (and the crowd), "I'm going to get some whiskey. Play some jazz or some shit, I'll be right back." He returned a few moments later, the jazz number in full swing, with an open but nearly full bottle of Jameson -- a bottle that would be emptied by Nichols and slide guitarist Todd Beene by the end of the encore. They offered up an absolutely inspired version of "Tears Don't Matter Much" from 2005's Nobody's Darlings, complete with added horns (they tour with a horn section these days) and, ironically, it was the only time during the night that the horns didn't sound intrusive.

They left the stage and came back out for a five-song encore that was easily the strongest passage of the set. They pulled out some of their best songs, including "Drink 'Til We're Gone" and Nichols' ode to his guitar, "My Best Girl" plus a great, if shambolic, cover of the Replacements' "If Only You Were Lonely" ("Well, if we're going to fuck up a cover, it might as well be a Replacements song." Nichols wryly noted.) Two hours in they finally hit a good stride, but it seemed to be because of the absence of any new songs. Everyone knows you have to tour to support your new material, but it's sure a drag when that material sticks out like a sore thumb.

Critic's Bias: I had been listening to--and, honestly, defending -- Women & Work in the days leading up to this show but it was all for naught. When put directly up against their other songs, this new album just isn't up to snuff and I was forced to admit that on Wednesday night.

The Crowd: So much plaid. So many beards.

Overheard In The Crowd: "The guitarist [Brian Venable] looks bored as hell playing these new ones."

Random Notebook Dump: Lucero hits harder when the songs are slower and more introspective.



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7 comments
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Anon
Anon

On question why is there an old photo with this article?

Ryan Cutler
Ryan Cutler

Not sure who they got permission from to use this photo - but here's my stuff from the Minneapolis show: http://www.theshowlastnight.co...

Reed Fischer
Reed Fischer

Hey Ryan, sorry about that. Your photo has been removed.

Ryan Cutler
Ryan Cutler

Hey Reed,

the problem is more that I contacted citypages the week before this Lucero show to ask about some work and they said that you guys have your minneapolis freelance staff covered - and then I see you're just using work that I've invested lots of time and money into.  Would you guys be okay if I was copy/pasting all your articles to my site?

I love your publication and that's why I reached out to y'all for some work.

CJ
CJ

They definitely seemed a little flat at the beginning and it also looked like they were having issues with the sound system. The crowd was really subdued, not like their last show at the Varsity in 2009 or when they opened last year for Social D. I have to say last summer when Ben was in town in support of his solo record and he played for a fundraiser at Grumpy's Northeast was my favorite, excluding Triple Rock in December 2007.  The new stuff really sounds like they are trying to be the new Springsteen and the E-Street Band.  They should stick with the more alt country sound it has really served them well.

Mikekaduce
Mikekaduce

you pretty much nailed it. still one of my favorite bands, but the new stuff is just so new stuff-y.

Mikekaduce
Mikekaduce

i should say that i felt the same way about 1372 songs on the last few tours, and now they fit right in. it's just how it goes, i guess. i'll be at the next show and the next one and the next one - think of what it must be like to play 'nights like these' 100+ times a year for the last 10 years.

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