Normally Lucero performs in NYC twice a year – we get them in the spring and then in the fall/winter. This year we didn’t get them in the spring so we haven’t seen them for a year but at least we got them twice (Long Island and Brooklyn) this weekend. I know they’ve been busy with all the babymaking and the marrying and other stuff but I missed them. It was especially sweet that they chose to be here for my birthday weekend.
When I got out of the subway I immediately started looking for a place to eat. There is no shortage of places to eat in Williamsburg but I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t been before. Right on Bedford Street is Dziupla, a Polish restaurant that also serves Eastern European and vegetarian dishes. It’s a small place with two rooms. It was full – there was one table with Polish family/friends celebrating what looked like a wedding. I sat at the bar so I wouldn’t take up a two-top when they were so full. A Charlie Chaplin/Fatty Arbuckle movie was playing above the bar and I got a glass of Malbec and checked out the menu. They had three different types of borscht – Ukrainian, white, and red with mushrooms dumplings. I decided to get the red borscht. It was a typical red borscht bouillon that’s served at wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve dinner. The mushroom dumplings are typical also but I’d never had it with the red borscht. The borscht was perfect – sweet and tart at the same time. And the dumplings were a delightful surprise. I started off with beef tartare, which included some hearty toasted bread. Also delicious. And I finished up the main meal with the chef’s pierogies, which were filled with goat cheese and spinach and covered in mushroom gravy. They were five or six of them and, though I prefer them pan fried to just boiled, they were also delicious. I’d love to go back and try their typical potato and cheese or sauerkraut and mushroom. They also have duck pierogies and dessert pierogies. They call their blintzes, crêpes and I was going to have one of the sweet cheese entrée crêpes as my dessert but then I decided on the pychotka, which by the description I thought was kind of a Napoleon/baklava. Instead it wasn’t sweet or like baklava at all but it was mostly like a Napoleon but with thicker pastry and dried fruit on top and was served with chocolate ice cream that had dried fruit in it. It was a perfect birthday dessert. The service was terrific and I was horrified when I realized a few days later that I only tipped 15%. I suck at arithmetic but I think I missed including the glass of wine when I calculated the total in order to determine the tip. I highly recommend this restaurant and I look forward to visiting again and trying the duck, salmon, and potato pancake dishes. The only thing that stopped me this time is that I’d had duck, salmon, and potato pancakes (at an Irish restaurant) the night before.
Music Hall of Williamsburg is one of my favorite clubs in NYC. Great sound, great sightlines, and a pretty perfect size. Not too big and not so small that name acts can’t play there. I noticed that the bus and trailer weren’t in front and later Cory Branan mentioned that the bus had broken down the night before and no one got any sleep. I hope it got fixed and they were back on the bus that night. MHoW always advertises 7pm doors for an 8pm show and never deliver on that promise. Which doesn’t make sense to me because they’re losing money at the downstairs bar by not letting people in early. There was a line when I got to MHoW about 7:15pm. and they made us wait quite a while. Then the woman at the will call window couldn’t find my ticket – I’d purchased early and used Applauze instead of Ticketmaster – and that took a bit to straighten out. I was afraid my regular spot at the front, on right side, up on the platform was going to be taken. Lucky me – it was still there. People had either stopped at the bar downstairs or went to the front of the stage. Being on the platform gives me a great view of the stage and no tall people can ever get in my way. Once I’d established my place by hanging my jacket over the railing, I went to use the rest room and bumped into Brian Venable (lead guitar) and said hi and told him how much I’d enjoyed the previous night and that it had been my birthday. He thanked me and wished me a happy birthday.
Cory Branan came out to quiet applause, took off his jacket, strapped on his acoustic guitar, and acknowledged the audience to more enthusiastic applause. He started off with the new song about a one-night stand (“the last asshole who booked this room set the alarm for the crack of noon” “we got through a pocket full of fire and a killer idea”) and then into the familiar “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis.” The pretty songs were over because he was pissed off at America and he performed a new song about a killer racist cop (“another nightmare in America”) and played the angriest acoustic guitar I’ve ever heard. Then he said we’d hear songs about puppies and rainbows – the puppies are all dead – and followed saying that with “here’s an old song I wrote back in ‘Nam.” Cory was in rare form. As always, he asked if we could drink now before he picked up his drink. He gave the bastardized Leonard Cohen lyric toast again (“To the few who forgive what you do and the even fewer who didn’t give a fuck in the first place”) and then another shorter toast by Jon Snodgrass that I didn’t quite catch. He sang another new song (“I only know I ain’t gonna go back”) from the new upcoming record that Dave Hause is part of or working with him on. Cory said the new song was a ditty. He realized that all eight songs he had for the record were about death so he needed to write a ditty. One new song was written for his father who died five years ago (“kind of man it takes to keep a vow”). He introduced “Sour Mash” as a shit song about whiskey. After Cory asked what we wanted to hear, someone shouted out “Freebird” and Cory said, “Don’t try me. I’ll sing it and I’ll sing it as flat as he did on the record.” Then he gave us a taste of it and said, “Next time you listen, you’ll say to yourself, ‘No shit. He’s flat.’” Then there was a mention of his uncles and how during this election season they say they can’t change and Cory tells them, “Fuck you. You can change.” Before “Skateland South” he said how much he missed the skating rinks since they’ve all disappeared but he couldn’t go now because he’s a grown fucking man. While tuning – “Jim Dickinson said that tuning is a great European dream” – it seemed to be a night for name-dropping. His next song about his childhood was an homage to John Cougar Mellencamp and had a line that he explained before the song and then during the song. If a woman wants to break a man’s heart every time, she should take a sprig of whatever blooms in spring and put it in her underwear drawer. Then every spring, the man will always associate A with B. Cory’s Norwegian fans were there again – I think it was their third and last night following the tour and John C Stubblefield (electric bass) gave them a shout out. Cory said it’s going to get very meta and explained that he records for Bloodshot Records and they put out a cd of their artists covering the songs of other artists on the label. Chuck Ragan did such a beautiful job with Cory’s “Survivor Blues” that now he thinks of it as a Chuck Ragan song and whenever he performs it, he feels like he’s doing a cover. Cory finished with a song that he said if he’d written it he would just be, “I’m out!” and performed Richard Thompson’s “Beeswing” before thanking the MHoW and us for being there. When I went downstairs to the rest room again I noticed a lot of people had stayed downstairs during Cory’s set and I think that’s a shame. He’s a brilliant songwriter and performer. You don’t know what you’re going to get, even with the most familiar songs. He backs away from the mic (which gives the audience a chance to sing the lyric but he doesn’t do it for that reason) and gets closer and growls and shouts. He plucks the strings and slides the pick up and down the guitar in a way that makes you think it’s going to break (either the pick or guitar) but instead it creates this huge sound that fills the room. And you wonder just how fast can a person strum a guitar – it’s otherworldly.
(new song about one-night stand)
The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis
(new song about killer racist cop)
Tall Green Grass
(new song – ditty)
Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin)
Beeswing (Richard Thompson cover)
I was very ready for Lucero when Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” started playing over the sound system and the band entered. In addition to Brian and John C., the band is Ben Nichols (vocals/guitars), Roy Berry (drums), and Rick Steff (keyboards/accordion). They’re not traveling with the horns and when Ben switches from acoustic to electric guitar, it gets louder and the energy level definitely rises but I miss the sound and power of the horns. Not that it sounds like anything is missing. Those five guys can fill the room with plenty of sound. Audiences seem better behaved than the first few times I saw Lucero years ago. There was no beer throwing and no aggressive mosh pit. Ben told us they were going to ease into it and they started off again with “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles.” Ben mentioned several times that he was hungover from the night before and the only cure for that would be more whiskey. He started off with a big full cup of whiskey and it had to filled again before the encore. “As hungover as I am, I’m going to do the same thing tonight.” Maybe because of the hangover, there was less talking and more playing this night. After “Raising Hell,” Ben mentioned that his brother is now a sleazy criminal defense attorney type so he still likes hanging out with the rough crowd. The crowd cheered every time Brian or Rick played a solo and, as always, Ben looked on in amazement as Rick played. This time you could hear Rick’s accordion during “Ain’t So Lonely” and it sounded beautiful. And this night the audience was polite when Ben played “Loving” as a solo on his acoustic. When he switched to electric guitar he told us it wasn’t going to get any happier. John C threw his arms up in the air for the start of “On My Way Downtown” and the crowd threw theirs up too and cheered. Ben introduced “Tears Don’t Matter Much” as a song about some songwriters back home. For “Slow Dancing,” Ben asked if the disco ball could be made to work and it started spinning at the right moment and the crowd cheered again. One thing I don’t know if I’ve noticed before but Ben has a towel open in front of his amp that is there just for him to spit on. When you’re looking from the side, it can get to be a pretty disgusting thing to watch. Ben said they were going to ease out like they eased in and they played “My Girl & Me in ‘93” to end the set and then Ben said “Fuck” when he messed up a lyric and “I was so fucking close” and that it’s “still a Lucero show” while Rick just shrugged his shoulders and nodded in agreement. On their way out Roy played some chords on the keyboard and on the way back for the encore Brian ran his finger along the keyboard. At the end, Ben thanked the MHoW, thanked us for our NY hospitality, and said he appreciated us being there but the only way to deal with his hangover would be more drinking so we could join him at the bar where he would be happy to hang out with us.
Brian always plays brilliant solos, Roy touches the drums so lightly and still gets such a big sound, John C. supports with his rhythm and his huge presence, Rick’s playing is perfection, and Ben’s voice combined with his heartfelt lyrics make me lose myself. During “It Gets the Worst at Night” I was so deeply lost on those dark roads that I really thought I was going to find that I was on some gravel road at 4am.
Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles
When You Decided to Leave
Texas & Tennessee
Last Night in Town
Union Pacific Line
That Much Further West
Ain’t So Lonely
The Man I Was
My Best Girl
Loving (Ben solo)
Downtown/On My Way Downtown
Nights Like These
Tears Don’t Matter Much
Chain Link Fence
Joining the Army (Ben solo)
Women & Work
It Gets the Worst at Night
Here at the Starlite
The War (Ben and Rick – accordion)
Hold Me Close (Ben solo)
Sweet Little Thing
Me & My Girl in ‘93
Drink ‘Til We’re Gone
Fistful of Tears (Ben and Rick)
As I was leaving I saw Cory by the merch table and wanted to ask him a question, which was, “Did you make a conscious decision not to play the racist cop song in an Irish bar on Long Island?” Cory said he plays the song throughout the South and he plays it even stronger when it’s an audience that might not like the song. I explained that an Irish bar on Long Island (Why is it in NYC but on Long Island?) is likely full of cops and/or firemen. Cory said he’d just forgotten to sing the song the night before and a bunch of cops should like the song because it’s about a guy they shouldn’t want to be a policeman. Sometimes an audience member will come up to him and say that their cousin’s a cop and Cory will answer that then their cousin would hate that type of guy. We talked about racism in the South and in NYC, which led to talking about the presidential election and people voting against their best interests. Both of us are looking forward to a Hillary presidency. He thanked me for the conversation when I left.
Ben was outside finishing a cigarette and talking to two guys when I approached him. They were talking about his brother Jeff’s movies and Ben was saying that he used to be the famous brother and now Jeff is more famous. That segued nicely into what I wanted to talk to Ben about, which was that I’d seen Loving at the New Yorker Festival and there was a Q&A afterwards where Jeff mentioned that Richard Loving was very much like his grandfather. I asked Ben if this was the same grandfather who Ben sings about and it turns out Jeff was singing about Poppa (or PopPop), who is the other grandfather (I forgot who was the maternal and who was the paternal grandfather). Loving was a typical quiet Southern man like his grandfather. Then I reminded Ben that I was the birthday girl from the night before and he apologized for not remembering (I didn’t expect him to remember) and I thanked him for another great show and he hugged me and wished me another happy birthday.
A perfect birthday weekend.
By Carene Lydia Lopez