Donnelly: Lucero at the Granada in Lawrence, 4/23/2013

“Well we put out Women & Work a year and a half ago,” explained Lucero frontman Ben Nichols to a 2/3 full house at the Granada.

“And we’re still touring on it, so here’s the first song off that record.”

Nichols’ road-hardened band, complete with trumpet and sax player in tow, blazed into the first track, Downtown, as a somewhat subdued Tuesday night crowd slowly fed off the band’s energy. His bucket of nails voice led the way, bending from low growl to scratchy howl, while the band – who mostly look like seasoned truckers – filled in the gaps.  

Lead guitarist Brian Venable worked his  Telecaster into an Orange head and cabinet to create a crunchy base that reminded me a bit of ZZ Top‘s swampy blues.

Next, the band reached back to 2002’s Nights Like These, with a slow ballad of self regret that suited basically all of Lucero’s strongest attributes.  A Jawbreaker cover was up next – Kiss the Bottle – a version that most probably know better than the original.

They followed that with the best song of the night, one that embodies what I think of when I think of these Memphis boys, Slow Dancing.

Smoking the cigarettes more than I should/ My hands can’t stop shaking/ That can’t be good…

Some of Lucero’s newer material sounded like a cross between the Nashville pop country you hear on the radio – but with a hard Memphis edge – and of course Nichols’ grizzled vocals.  Perhaps it’s the natural evolution for a band as they grow older to mellow out in certain respects.

“I just love playing in a rock band with a horn section,” said Nichols of the expanded instrumentation brought on by their most recent album.

Someone in the crowd offered to buy him a shot.

“Fuck ya, I’ll do a shot,” Nichols shot back.  “No, I don’t need a chaser, I’ve got this whiskey on ice,” he said, holding up a plastic cup.

That’s about right.

As the set neared its end most of the band left the stage, leaving only Nichols and keyboardist Rick Steff.  Steff grabbed his accordion for the last couple songs of the night, softer, folkier numbers that did the crowd good on a Tuesday night.

Nichols thanked the crowd for the 13th time and tipped his cap – truly appreciative after playing nearly 200 gigs per year for over a decade.

 

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