Live review: Lucero, Shooter Jennings @ the Bluebird TheaterBy Billy Thieme, Craig Randall, Craig Randall and Craig Randall | April 15th, 2010 | No Comments »
One-time indie darlings, and now major label veterans, Lucero filled out both their lineup and their countrified-punk-meets-”Let It Be”-era Replacements sound last Tuesday night at the Bluebird Theater — in the process wow-ing a sellout crowd who was more than happy to join them.
The core of the band — frontman/guitarist Ben Nichols, drummer Roy Berry, guitarist Brian Venable and bassist John Stubblefield — were flanked by keyboards and pedal steel and backed up by a two-man horn section, which resulted in a fuller, more soulfully anthemic country sound than the band’s alt-country-punk flavored roots.
Their performance, and the general direction of the music on their latest record, is more reminiscent of traditional Memphis country music than their earlier, more simple productions. Still, most of the tunes were jocular and danceable, and often recalling the feel of Eddie and the Cruisers’ or the E Street Band’s largeness.
A huge flag baring the band’s name was draped across the back of the stage, filling its entire width with the band name in an embroidered old western font intertwined with huge rose-type flowers. The design echoed the band’s roots in western balladry and magnified the Southern, homegrown style.
Nichol’s stage personality was strong, belying an almost overstated humility, and he made sure to mention he band’s Memphis roots more than a few times between howling, heartbroken lyrics that barreled over whiskey and smoke-hewn vocal chords. He sang sad bastard lyrics inside of ballads like “What Are You Willing to Lose,” “Sounds of the City” and more lively ones like “Sixes and Sevens” and “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo.”
While Lucero’s sound was a departure form the punk roots on their earlier independent records, those roots can still be easily discerned. The combination of Venable’s minor chord constructions and twang with Stubblefield’s thumping bass and Berry’s simple, driving drums still wandered about in musical fields still very similar to those where Everclear and Social Distortion came from. It was the addition of the horn section and constant, near honky-tonk piano more than anything else that seemed to push them furthest way from the punk rock and into the Memphis swing.
The packed house thoroughly enjoyed it and danced and sang along enthusiastically to nearly every song. Throngs in front often seemed a bit confused about whether to slam, swing or start two-step a line — and grinned widely amidst hoots and howls and cat calls.
Shooter Jennings, son of country stars Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, opened the show with his band Heirophant with a wild jam-band style that almost exactly matched that of the Edgar Winter Group in both look and feel. In a nutshell, their stage antics were cartoonish — particularly on stage right, where the rhythm guitarist gyrated constantly and the keyboardist smashed out chords with enough passion to cause his whole setup to bounce around half the stage. That, and the songs were too long, even for jam band standards.
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Brian Carney is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.