My boys! My boys are back in town.
And they were playing at a new venue. Not just a new venue to me but a new venue for NYC. Brooklyn Steel is part of the Bowery Presents group. And just like most of the other clubs in that group, they spent their money on the right things. All the employees are pleasant – even the bouncers. After every transaction – getting a wristband, going through a metal detector, scanning my ticket, bathroom attendant handing me a towel, getting a drink from the bartender – the person would tell me to enjoy the show. The space was an actual warehouse that takes up an entire city block, so it’s huge. There’s a big lobby with a bar and stairs leading up to the balcony. Plenty of room for merch tables and a coat check. The ladies’ room has lots of stalls – the line was for the men’s room while the women could walk in and out of the bathroom easily. The room is very big and the sound is terrific – whether you’re standing up next to the stage or all the way in the back by the bar behind the sound board, you can hear everything clearly.
The venue is in what is called East Williamsburg but can also be considered part of Bushwick in Brooklyn. The club is in an industrial park area. My choices to get there was the L or the Metropolitan Avenue bus. Since the area is next to Maspeth and Ridgewood in Queens, it made sense for me to take the bus, which is a straight line to the area. Taking the L would be a more roundabout way for me. I don’t know what the walk from the L train is like but from the bus you’re walking past a lot of closed-for-the-day warehouses on one side and a park (which would be empty at night) and projects on the other side. I had to make a choice about when I left the club – try the walk to the L or take a chance down the dark empty streets to the bus stop? I chose the bus stop – the walk wasn’t bad. There’s a lot of traffic on Morgan Street but the bus stop was dark and Grand Street empty. Some guy (looking drunk or stoned) was near me but I was lucky and the bus came right away. I am glad I left before the show ended.
I got there shortly after the doors opened, which was an hour before the show was scheduled to begin. There were a couple of spots still available right up at the stage, so I took one. Normally I wouldn’t stand so close but the room was so large that I didn’t want to stand in the back and standing in the crowd means I don’t see anything because of my (lack of) height. There’s a space between the stage and a railing for the crowd. Photographers were in the space at the beginning of each band’s set but then the bouncers would tell them to leave after 10-15 minutes. When I was standing in the back for the last act, there was railing on the platform behind the sound board, which was on the club floor. But we all had to stand back a few feet behind that railing leaving an aisle between the two sets of stairs. A lot of rules in this club – there were also a lot of signs prohibiting crowd-surfing. The crowd was there for the headliner, which I gathered by the look of the people attending was a heavy metal band. Two younger guys standing next to me asked me what band I was there to see and, when I told them, they said that Lucero was the only band that they weren’t familiar with. They confirmed for me that the other two bands were heavy metal. It always impresses me how Lucero will face a crowd not geared towards their music. It’s brave. The guys and I had a nice conversation about music and exchanged names of bands that the other should check out. When asked for names of bands to recommend, my brain always freezes but I managed to come up with a few names. When asked for favorite punk bands (especially who I saw at CBGBs) all I could think of was the Ramones. Now, of course, I can think of many others. When I mentioned favorite bands, and listed the Replacements right under the Beatles, one of the guys said that the Beatles was just a boy band and didn’t get good until they started taking drugs. I tried to explain the significance of the Beatles in modern music – every band either cites them as an influence or their own influences cite them plus how they changed the landscape of radio and musicians writing their own music, etc. etc. – but he really wasn’t hearing me. Earlier in the conversation he was just on the edge of mansplaining music to me (to me!) but his comments about the Beatles led me to dismiss him. But I will check out the bands he suggested to me. He may be another insufferable male, who thinks he knows everything music, but that doesn’t mean he has bad taste in bands.
Since there were three bands performing there was a lot of equipment on stage. You could see that the first act would be performing in a line almost at the edge of the stage. The Sword made their entrance at exactly 8pm to music that I believe was the Beastie Boys. (The sound system had been playing different heavy metal bands to that point.) The two guys had described them as Southern heavy metal and I was definitely hearing that. Heavy metal with a Southern rock feel. Wikipedia tells me they’re an Austin band, which isn’t very Southern. But the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist John D. “JD” Cronise is from Richmond, Virginia. The other band members are Kyle Shutt (lead guitar), Bryan Richie (bass/synthesizer), and Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III (drums). Shutt and Richie have the long hair you’d expect from a Southern rock band and it’s Shutt’s guitar that gives the band that Southern rock feel. The two guys (why didn’t we exchange names?) had told me that The Sword had an earlier science-fiction concept album but I wasn’t getting any science-fiction type of vibe. I enjoyed the band a lot. Maybe not enough to buy an album but certainly enough to listen again if they were on the same bill as another artist I was going to see. Shutt is an excellent guitarist and Richie a very good bassist. Vela pounded the shit out of the drums.
Two girls took the places of the two guys (they stood behind and next to them) and now there was a lot of flirting going on. The girls were as unfamiliar with Lucero as the two guys were. But there were enough people around me singing along with the band for me to feel at home. Ben got only one whiskey shot from the crowd – it was difficult to reach him with the space between the stage and the crowd. The band entered to “The Bare Necessities.” And they sounded great – despite the fact that I was standing so close that most of the vocals I was hearing was from the monitors, everything was clear. Ben Nichols (singer/guitarist) was in great voice and you could see him inhabiting the roles of the narrators of each song. Brian Venable (guitar) was as on-point as always, as were John C. Stubblefield (bass) and Rick Steff (keyboards/accordion). Roy Berry (drums) always blows me away with how gently he plays the drums but still gets a big sound and I had a front row seat to watch. During “Downtown/On My Way Downtown,” when Ben sings, “Oh, I’ll be good tonight,” he always explains that that might not be true. This time he told us that with Clutch playing it definitely wouldn’t be true. And here they were sandwiched in-between two heavy metal bands playing their soft sweet songs with as much power as their other songs. The two guys (and I’m pretty sure the two girls) were not impressed. One guy said Lucero was depressing. They’re not depressing – the guys just weren’t paying attention to the lyrics. Yes, some can be sad but they’re not depressing. I believe they weren’t really comparing Lucero lyrically with the other bands but instead were comparing them musically. Were the other bands louder and faster? – yes. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into upbeat. Lucero’s lyrics are definitely more fun than the others. One of the guys had been thrilled to get The Sword’s set list from a roadie. I forgot to mention to them to note how Lucero doesn’t use a set list and they just follow Ben – either he plays a few chords or he shouts out a song and the band falls in right behind him. They’re a tight unit.
Ben was feeling the whiskey and mentioned his beautiful 10-month-old daughter. “I know a lot of you have babies but I got the best.” He doesn’t know any lullabies so he sings her songs from his solo album The Last Pale Light in the West, which is based on a very dark violent novel Blood Meridian. Ben said he’s probably going to fuck her up singing those songs to her. He sang the words “Davy Brown, Davy Brown” and then sang an a cappella version of “The Last Pale Light in the West,” which he sings to his daughter at night. I don’t know about the non-Lucero crowd but those of us there to see the band were very touched.
Every time Lucero plays, there’s at least one convert at the show. I was one of those years ago. I hope last night’s concert brought us a few more converts.
Can’t You Hear Them Howl
Chain Link Fence
Downtown/On My Way Downtown
Nights Like These
Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good
Here at the Starlite
I Can Get Us Out of Here
The War (Ben solo with Rick on accordion)
Davy Brown (just the one line a cappella)
The Last Pale Light in the West (a cappella)
The Last Song
I told the two guys that it was nice meeting them and pushed my way to the back of the room. I had a feeling it was going to get rowdy for the headliners and I wanted to be able to leave early. During soundcheck it seemed it was actually louder in the back than it had been up front. Clutch entered to a rap/funk (not auto-tuned – yay!) song about money that had a slight New Orleans feel. Clutch is a Maryland band with Neil Fallon (vocals), Dan Maines (bass), Tim Sult (guitar), and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums). There’s a very big sound from a small group. The band is hardcore rap/metal – at least that’s what I was hearing. Okay to listen to and maybe if I wasn’t anxious about getting home, I might have enjoyed them more. I left after four songs.
Out in the lobby Ben was talking with three or four people. I waited so I could talk with him and then a man approached and he talked with Ben for a bit. As Ben turned he saw me and came in for a hug. Surprised me. I’m not so sure that he recognized me – I think it was more of a whiskey hug. We talked for a little while. I asked him how difficult it is to leave his daughter and he said it was very tough and the cliché is true that they change so fast. He’s gone a few weeks and she’s already learned to do a bunch of different things. But he was happy that he gets to go home to her. I asked if he would let her become a musician and he said he would let her be whatever she wants. Holding a shot of whiskey, he mentioned he had to stay healthy so that he could see what she becomes – not tonight but he would watch out for his health in the future. A woman started pulling him away as he was talking to me, telling him she wanted to speak privately, and as Ben allowed himself to pulled away he broke free from her for a second and asked for a hug from me. So two (two!) hugs from Ben at his insistence. I smiled all the way home.
By Carene Lydia Lopez