I hate to write a gushing review since it leaves so little room for discussion or dissection but there's no getting around it: Lucero's
show at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday was the best concert I've seen all year and quite possibly one of the best I've ever witnessed. Their music, which occasionally sounds dusty and choked or brassy and gaudy on the albums doesn't merely sound better in a live venue: it sounds as if this was its natural habitat. Tracks that otherwise provide only an interesting background to a rambling car ride or a late-night conversation take on insane urgency when played to a room packed full of avid whiskey-soaked and beer-glutted listeners in a setting as intimate as a squeeze-packed Bowery Ballroom.
What's uncovered in this transition from the recorded to the live performance is just how compelling Lucero can be; how else explain that at one point in the show a fan crawled unto stage and thrust a $100-bill in Ben Nichols' hand with the plea that the band bust out his favorite song? There's a commanding power in Nichols' wheezy growl, in John Stubblefield's tortured bass notes, in drummer Roy Berry's primal drums; there's a note in Brian Venable's guitar that he can bend to draw out either tears or wall-wide grins; even the horn section, which I once decried, breathes where it might have bellowed and complements what it could have so easily have drowned. Occasional missteps -- the accordion added to "The War" is maybe too funky for a song that works best as a bones-bare lament; "Last Night in Town" somehow lacked the rambunctious vitality of the recorded version -- might have been present but it's actually impossible to carp on minutiae when remembering how perfectly arranged the three-hour, two-set concert was.
Not that there weren't tears, but better to attribute those to Lucero's acute ability to crawl right up under the skin with stark lyrics about gut-level isolation and regret coupled with an instrumentation that comes up from the bottom of a well. There might have been some level of physical violence but write that off as a result Nichol's barroom growl and the ribald energy of a band that wants to dance as much as its fans do but has to settle instead for shunting that need off to an all-too-eager audience. Never write off a band that's so damn flexible, though, or so capable of fusing strains of country, punk, alt rock and soul so skillfully, or you risk missing out on one of the most enjoyable shows out there. You've still got your chance: Lucero will be playing at the Bowery Ballroom Again this evening from 9 onward.
I know I'll be going back. I hope to see you there.