My boys are in town for my birthday weekend. Isn’t that nice of them to do that for me?
Back in July tickets went on sale for Lucero’s fall tour. They were playing in Williamsburg on the day after my birthday, which was exciting enough. Then I saw that they were playing on Long Island on my birthday. I knew I needed to get out there but would it be a pain in the ass? Turns out the place was right next to the train station. They couldn’t have made it easier.
The show at Cannon’s Blackthorn was in support of the Tommy Brull Foundation’s Shine a Light Music Series. Martin Brull started the foundation in memory of his brother and their mission is to raise money to benefit people and organizations dedicated to serving people with physical, mental, and emotional challenges in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The money raised at last night’s concert was going towards a playground for children with special needs. During the raffle of two of Brian Venable’s (lead guitar) skateboard decks and announcing the auction winner of Ben Nichols’ (vocals/guitars) electric guitar, Ben said it was nice to be doing good because usually they’re doing bad. Turns out Ben has two of the exact same guitar. The one that was auctioned off had some history – he’d been using it to play live for about 10 years and it was used on the last few recordings.
Since I knew I’d be spending my weekend with my boys, I went out on Friday night to celebrate my birthday at my local pub. I was still feeling the effects of my celebrating when I boarded the LIRR for Rockville Centre. As usual, I walked in the wrong direction twice before finally figuring out where the bar/restaurant was. Being literally next to the station didn’t make it any easier for me. I had gotten there early so I could have dinner before the show but the bar’s kitchen wasn’t open. Cory Branan was on stage doing his soundcheck and doors were not until 7pm. I went across the street to Monaghan’s, which was another Irish bar/restaurant but looked more restaurant than bar. The entrance wasn’t easy to find but once I did I found the place to be warm and inviting. Lucero was playing in the background all through dinner – I wasn’t sure if that was a jukebox or not. On the day of a show, I don’t like to listen to the music of a performer I’m seeing. I know others feel differently. I had Irish smoked salmon stacked high on top of a potato pancake and Long Island roast duck. All the food was delicious and it was after 7pm by the time I finished and I was full so there was no time for dessert. As I was leaving, the wait staff was singing “Happy Birthday” to a customer. Later, in Cannon’s Blackthorn, someone announced a bartender’s birthday from the stage. All my life I’ve shared my birthday with a lot of people. It’s a popular day to be born.
There was a line outside and when I finally got in they offered a drink bracelet for $10, which would get you discounted drinks all night. I decided against it since I thought maybe I was still a little drunk from the night before. I walked to the back and there was Ben talking with Meredith (who was the guitar auction winner and paid for the decks that were raffled off) and, with little hesitation, I walked over and shook Ben’s hand and told him it was my birthday and I wanted him to sing pretty for me that night. No maybes about it; obviously I was still drunk. Ben told me, “Happy birthday,” and thanked me for coming out to see them on birthday. I know he’s used to talking with drunk people but I think I confused him a bit. Later, I was kicking myself because of all the things I could have said. How about, “At the New Yorker Festival they had a screening your brother Jeff’s film Loving, which was quiet and powerful and I cried and your song that ran over the credits was beautiful. During the Q&A, Jeff said that Richard Loving reminded him a lot of his grandfather. Is that the same grandfather that you sing about in songs like ‘The War’?” Or I could have congratulated him on his marriage and new child. But, no, I was stupid and embarrassed myself.
This Irish place was definitely more bar than restaurant. It looks like a castle both inside and out and it’s big for a bar but small for a club. A huge rectangular bar fills the floor and there are tables off to the side. The stage is in the back – you walk a few steps up and it’s big stage. But the front is a stone wall that has a cutout window for you to see the performers (their legs are cut off) and doors cut out on either side. The lights are in the back corners so they’re always shining on the audience (difficult to get good photos if you’re not looking on dead center) and they don’t highlight the front of the performers, so that Ben and Cory were always in shadow. Not the most ideal set-up for music. But the sound was good and it was loud. I was standing in the left corner of the bar facing the stage. It became more crowded as the night went on and too many tall people stood in front of me but it was less claustrophobic because I had open space the right of me.
Ken Chase was on stage when I arrived. I can’t find anything about him online. I think he’s a local artist. He was wearing a cowboy hat, playing an acoustic guitar, and singing original songs. The audience was noisy and people were still arriving but they applauded at the right times and he was nice enough but no barnburner.
Cory Branan went right into footstomping and “Sour Mash” and plucking his acoustic guitar hard. Someone leaned over me to order a bourbon at the bar and was told the bar was out. It wasn’t even 8:30pm yet and the bar hadn’t prepared for a Lucero crowd. Before he performed “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis,” Cory said that we would get into the sad depressed adult songs later. He was trying to avoid ballads because it was not the crowd for quieter songs. As always, Cory blows me away with how fast he can play and how incredibly he uses the guitar. He’ll take the pick and slide it up and down the guitar’s neck and then do this huge pluck that fills the room. Also he plays around with the mic by stepping back and then forward again and last night his style of singing was a combination talking and singing with some lyrics spoken in the most perfect way. He had his setlist from his Oslo fans – these are guys who travel to the US (not sure if it’s just the NYC area or nationwide) whenever Cory performs. I’ve seen them at a few Cory shows. They hand him a setlist and he’ll play a few songs from it. At one point, Cory said we knew each other well enough to drink together and he held up his drink and gave a toast that is a bastardization of a Leonard Cohen lyric, “To the few who forgive what you do and the even fewer who didn’t give a fuck in the first place.” Before “Skateland South,” we heard a story about the skating rink in Mississippi called Lollipops and how his mother would drop him off and he’d have to wait for 30 minutes in an unairconditioned hallway where bad portraits of rock stars would be melting and the song “Lollipop” would be playing on a loop and after the ninth play you’re looking for your copy of Catcher in the Rye. He noted a girl who was there and that some of us would be old enough to recognize a TV show mentioned in the lyrics. Cory did a beautiful cover of Richard Thompson’s “Beeswing,” which was followed by a happy song about empty meaningless sex, which I think is a new song (at least not recorded yet). He sang “The Only One,” which is one of my favorite songs of his. “When she sleeps I trace the places where your tattoos used to be” is such a great lyric among so many of Cory’s great lyrics. He plays the guitar so hard that a string broke (which he cursed during the song) and he borrowed Ben’s acoustic, which he promised he’d be gentle with so he had to stick with ballads. At one point he called over to Ben that the rope (in place of a guitar strap) was hurting him and he didn’t know how Ben did it. Despite the promise of ballads, he ended with some rock and roll – he started with “Long Tall Sally” and then I think he forgot the lyrics so it became a medley with “I Saw Her Standing There.” I find it interesting that Cory and Ben have songs with the same titles and they both use the phrase “hornet’s nest” (one in the chest and the other a heart like) and I wonder if that’s part of a Southern expression. It was another brilliant performance from Cory.
The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis
Love me like you wanted to (new song?)
Hell-bent and Heart-first
Pocket full of fire and an idea (new song?)
The Only You
Long Tall Sally/I Saw Her Standing There
Before Lucero’s performance, I was wondering how the songs that had originally had horns were going to sound without them. Now I was wondering if I was going to be able to see the band at all. Because of the tall people, I was disappointed in not being able to watch Brian put his head back during his great solos or Roy Berry’s (drums) face while he hits the drums so quietly yet manages to get a big sound out of them or John C Stubblefield (electric bass) standing like the mountain that he is while his brilliant rhythm supports the songs or Rick Steff (keyboards/accordion) play so lovely that Ben has to stop and watch every time. Most of the night I managed to find a piece of unobstructed view where I could watch Ben. Occasionally I caught glimpses of the others. John C and Rick were especially difficult to see because they were right where the light was shining in my eyes. At least the sound was good and I could hear Ben’s lyrics that cut right to the heart and his singing, which is heartfelt and sad and inspiring at the same time. They are personal songs about mostly sad universal experiences that make you happy when you’re sad because someone understands your feelings and can write so eloquently about them.
The band entered to Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee.” They went right into “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” and continued playing songs with Ben on his acoustic. Before “Raising Hell” Ben said it’s been a while since they played a show this close to the bar and he liked the proximity. He told us there’d be a few songs on the acoustic and then he was going to switch to the electric and he said, “I never thought I’d write a Lucero song about getting married but it happened,” before “Throwback No. 2.” For “I Ain’t So Lonely,” Rick was supposed to be on accordion but it seems something wasn’t working throughout the entire song. Luckily that was fixed. Solo, Ben played a song he’d written before most of the audience was born (1994) and he joked that he was five years old then. When he sang the first line, “I drive around all day,” he cracked up and said, “I had my driver’s license at 5 years old” and then he started “Outsiders” again (it’s a Red 40 song). He also performed “Loving,” which he said he wrote for his wife (it plays over the credits of his brother’s film) and a lot of people were rude and talking during it. It’s a beautiful song. For “My Best Girl” he said that a lot of women like the song not realizing it’s about his guitar and when he sang “The only girl a boy can trust is his guitar,” he said that he was very young when he wrote that and it’s ridiculous. And halfway true. During the show someone was holding up a glass of whiskey and Ben asked if it was for him. He thought the guy was just holding it up. When Ben took it, he asked if there used to be ice in the glass. And Ben joked that it really was the guy’s drink and he’d taken a few sips and then he just decided to give it to Ben.
When he switched to his electric guitar Ben said, “We’re Lucero from Memphis, TN. It’s not going to get any faster but it might get a little louder.” The band went into “Downtown/On My Way Downtown” with Ben noting that there was no way of behaving with this crowd in this bar. Ben was gracious as always and said that you don’t get a lot of Saturday nights and thanked us for spending ours with them. He also mentioned Long Island hospitality and how nice everyone had been but swore he’d keep it a secret that Long Islanders are really nice. He gave the usual introduction to “Women & Work” that the song was really about women and whiskey. Ben and Rick (on accordion) performed “The War” and “Mom.” Ben forgot the lyrics during “Mom” and since the line before he forgot was “make some mistakes” he thought that if you’re going to make a mistake this was a good time for it. He got a whiskey (telling us not to tell his mom) to help him remember and then he redid the verse and finished the song. When the band left the stage after “I Can Get Us Out of Here” it was so strange. There was clapping and then none. People were talking. Did no one want an encore? I kept clapping and yelling and then another woman at the bar was clapping and then finally the bar started chanting, “Lucero” and they came back on stage. They ended with “Fistful of Tears” with Ben thanking us and walking off stage while Rick continued playing the keyboard.
Ben had said he’d meet people at the bar and the band would sign the skateboard decks. I didn’t know it but a lot of people went to the outside bar in the back, where it wasn’t as cold as it was most of outside was. I saw Brian all bundled up outside the fence talking with Meredith and I could see Ben signing and talking. I wanted to say something to either of them but I guess my drunkenness had worn off by then. The music in the bar immediately switched to dance music. It was very startling. I like dance music and sat and sang along for a bit and watched a guy with glasses and lit disco gloves dance and some of the drunk couples dancing. then I left because there was train due and the next one wasn’t for another 45 minutes. The line outside the bar was of a very different crowd. It was like the switch at Webster Hall from a rock band to a dance club.
As always Lucero killed and I was happy and thrilled to be spending my birthday with them. We all sang along on almost every song and people raised their glasses to one of the best live bands around today. I’m looking forward to Williamsburg tonight.
Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles
Texas & Tennessee
Last Night in Town
Union Pacific Line
Throwback No. 2
Ain’t So Lonely
That Much Further West
Outsiders (Red 40 song) (Ben solo)
Loving (Ben solo)
My Best Girl
Downtown/On My Way Downtown
Nights Like These
Tears Don’t Matter Much
Kiss the Bottle (Jawbreaker cover)
Women & Work
The Last Song
The War (only Ben and Rick)
Mom (only Ben and Rick)
Sweet Little Thing
I Can Get Us Out of Here
Drink ‘Til We’re Gone
Fistful of Tears (only Ben and Rick)
By Carene Lydia Lopez