Night two at the Brooklyn Bowl was even better – first of all while I was on line to get in, Rick Steff (keyboards, accordion) was walking out. People on line said hello and he said he was sorry that the weather wasn’t better for us to rock and roll. He spotted me and said, “You’re back for another night!” And I smiled and said an enthusiastic yes. That he remembered me was wonderful – that he recognized me bundled up in a coat and hat is a miracle. The women ahead of me asked me all sorts of questions about the night before including whether the set lists would overlap. I explained that Lucero works without a set list – they go wherever the night takes them.
I had to squeeze my way in because just at that moment a million little kids were leaving the club – there must have been a birthday party at the bowling alley. Brooklyn Bowl is supposed to have good fried chicken and I was in the mood for some good fried chicken so I decided to have dinner there. The menu is mostly typical bar food. The fried chicken is served with okay mashed potatoes and very good collard greens. The chicken was also very good and something they are rightly proud of.
The music playing in the club were songs from the 1970s and 1980s that I haven’t heard in ages – “Come Dancing” “Frankenstein” “Pretty in Pink” “The No-No Song” Rhoda Morgenstern said when at a party of a college student that Mary Richards was dating – my life is their nostalgia. That’s exactly how I felt. There were some leftover kids from the birthday party and they were tumbling and cartwheeling across the empty floor, which was fun to watch.
The club has four tables on the floor that are put away before the show starts. Last night instead of putting the tables under the stage, the tables were backed up against the wall. Immediately people found seats for the night. I jumped on a spot as soon as it became available and stayed there all night. I was glad I did – this was a rowdier crowd than the night before and, even though it would have been safe up at the stage, it also would have been more crowded.
Hollis Brown is Mike Montali, Jon Bonilla, Mike Graves, Dillon DeVito, and Michael Hesslein. I can’t find out who plays what but there was a lead singer on guitar, an electric bassist on background vocals, keyboardist, lead guitarist, and drummer. They call themselves freestyle. I thought they were a good fit with Lucero – rock with a southern accent but I’m not sure they’re actually from the south. They have nothing to do musically with Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” They do know how to play a crowd when you’re the opening act – keep mentioning the headliner and how excited you are to hear them play. The lead guitarist and bassist did a lot of emoting on stage, which I don’t mind as long as the emotions are also coming out of the instrument. Sometimes the acting is to make up for what’s lacking musically. I didn’t feel they were making up for any lacking – it felt genuine – but I wasn’t really feeling it.
Lucero made their entrance to Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” The crowd went crazy when the song played and before the band got on stage. Ben Nichols (vocals, guitar) said to anyone who hadn’t been there the night before that they were missed. And then band went right into “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo.” Between “Downtown” and “On My Way Downtown” Ben said, “Like I said last night. I ain’t been good in 14 fucking years.” And we’re off. More shots were brought to the stage and Ben got more and more talkative as the night went on. Since it was the second night of a two-night stand we heard songs that they don’t often play. A guy next to me asked me about one of those songs. He wanted me to tell him what the song was that he didn’t know. I had no idea how to respond to that and his girlfriend was laughing. We finally figured out it was “Wandering Star.”
The band took a lot of requests but Ben refused to do “Other Side of Lonesome” because it had sucked the night before.
Rick had a beautiful intro to “It May Be Too Late” and Ben said he could listen to Rick play like that all night long so he let the intro continue a bit. During the night Ben pointed out how great Todd Beene (pedal steel) is and he told us about the greatest rock band called Glossary and Ben said he would stand on The Hold Steady’s drum kit (and on Craig Finn’s shoes) and proclaim that. He laughed while he said that you can download Todd’s band’s songs for free on the internet because they can’t sell them.
Roy Berry, who has the most delicate touch when it comes to drumming, was rightly singled out by Ben after a particularly beautiful job he’d done. Brian Venable (lead guitar) also pointed to various members when they soloed.
Ben very sincerely said that he had the best job in the world and that the best thing he’d ever done was to stay in this band long enough to hire these bad ass guys, as he pointed to Rick, Todd, and Jim Spake (saxophone), and Scott Thompson (trumpet). Ben added that it was a given that John C. Stubblefield (electric bass), Brian, and Roy were bad ass. Each of the ‘newer’ members was given long solos and Brian did a kick-ass job on several songs. Ben teased Brian about not knowing how to speak into a mic and not knowing the names of the songs. Ben said apparently this song is called “Bad Tattoos.” As the band played “All Sewn Up” Brian crossed his arms and mock-pouted and refused to play at the start of the song.
For “Better Than This” we heard how his roommates changed the lyrics to songs to make them dirty and that it was difficult sometimes for Ben to sing the songs correctly. For “Go Easy” Ben said he imagined that this is what church would be like since he’d never been to church.
During “Slow Dancing” when Ben sang the line “the light from the disco ball surrounds us in stars” the disco ball in the center of the room lit up and surrounded us all with stars. Ben broke out in the biggest smile.
Best moment. After “Bikeriders” Ben said his mother was an avid motorcycle rider. Then he realized he could also tell any tall tale about her and we would believe it. Ben decided to do an imitation of his mother answering the cell phone. This led to Ben deciding to call his mother in Austin since it was only 11pm there. First he had to figure out how to use his new iPhone and then as the phone rang he realized that he might wake the baby. His father picked up and he told his father where he was and that he was about to perform “Mom.” We all roared into the phone. Then his mother got on the phone and we roared again. After he hung up he said he’s now probably in trouble for waking his 2-year-old nephew.
The band played more than two hours again. This time there was no encore break so that they could play to 1am without wasting any time (even though Ben said he was dying for a cigarette).
What a memorable night. Ben said it was the most fun he’s had in a long time. It certainly was for me. I can’t wait to see them New Year’s Eve.
Ben solo with Rick and Todd
By Carene Lydia Lopez