Way back in May the tickets for Lucero on a Rocks Off Concert Cruise went on sale. This would be an East River cruise on the Liberty Belle. I couldn’t wait to spend a summer evening cruising NYC harbor with my boys.
There were two short lines on the pier when I got there. Some people were sitting and hanging out. It was difficult to tell if there were separate will-call and ticket holders lines, so I just stood on one line and hoped for the best. Soon a few unicorn-clad Rocks Off employees came out to either take our ticket or check us off will-call.
The boat was rocking while it was still docked, which didn’t bode well for me since I get seasick easily. When we boarded we were immediately led into a big room with a bar on one end and food on the other. The bar line was very long so I went to check out the food. I ended up getting a little of everything – there was Mexican food, salad, some other food that I don’t remember but I think I had at least one bite of everything. I asked where the band would be playing – there were three levels and the boat holds 500 people. I went downstairs and saw another bar, the soundboard, and a raised area that was acting as the stage. There was one spot left in front of the stage and I took it. Then I went to the bar and they didn’t have Ketel One (since I drink it on the rocks, it makes a difference to me in terms of taste). I don’t like the taste of Absolut and my other choice was a bunch of flavored vodkas. I tried the peach since they didn’t have a lemon/citron option and it was not good.
Not leaving my spot meant that I never got to see the harbor views. That’s okay. I live in NYC and I get to enjoy that view all the time. And I’ve been in lots of boats circling the harbor including some other concert cruises. Those boats had big windows that allowed everyone to have a view whether they were inside or outside. While waiting for the show to start, band members were coming in and out of the backstage area (a curtained off area in the back). While John C Stubblefield (bass) and Roy Steff (keyboards) were able to walk through the crowd quickly, Ben Nichols (singer/guitarist) didn’t have a chance. He was constantly stopped by people to talk or take photos and he is always (always) so gracious with his time. Brian Venable (guitar) and Roy Berry (drums) also get stopped but not as often.
Earlier that day I’d been at Long Beach with rtb and when I told her that Jesse Malin was the opening act, she made a face that made me laugh. Apparently rtb is not a Jesse Malin fan. I had no idea what to expect. The band made their entrance to a song that sounded like Gogol Bordello. His set list was written on the back of a styrofoam plate. Well, Malin started to talk and he immediately endeared himself to me. He’s from Flushing, Queens. He mentioned that he’d been the voice of Joey Ramone in Vinyl – they needed a nasal Queens voice. How can I not love a homeboy? I wasn’t thrilled with his outfit (suspenders and a newsboy cap turned sideways) but his songs had references to Brooklyn and Queens from someone who knows the boroughs. Most of the songs were upbeat musically even if the lyrics weren’t quite as happy. On stage with Malin (acoustic guitar) was Derek Cruz (acoustic guitar/keyboards), Danny Ray (saxophone), and Indofunk Satish (trumpet) and they gave us a full loud sound. Before Malin sang The Hold Steady’s “You Make Him Like You,” he said that he’d played this song on a Revival Tour that had Ben on the same tour and during the song, this big Englishman jumped on stage to sing along. He turned out to be Frank Turner.
While breaking down, Joe Brown (Lucero’s sound guy) picked up the styrofoam plate and Frisbeed it into the audience, hitting me. There were some people behind me, who were there just to see Malin, and they asked for it, so I gave them the plate.
The band entered to Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” and Ben said something along the lines of “We’re on a boat. I feel hungover already and I haven’t even drunk anything yet.” They went right into “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” with several of us supplying the howling. During “My Best Girl” Ben almost messed up what he usually calls the cheesy line and he noted that when the song was finished. Later he told us that they’re working on a new album and they don’t know the new songs enough to play but they’ve forgotten the old songs and that’s why they sound so rusty. There were several wrong chords and at least once I saw Ben make a face when he messed up and another time making a face when Brian did. They did play one of the new songs, which was lovely with lyrics like “To my dearest wife I write/Kiss our baby girls tonight/Tomorrow’s bell will not wait/I don’t see no other way.” (I think I got that right.)
Like the old days, the band kept going on with Ben saying, “Let’s keeping playing stuff we don’t know.” The entire feel of the night was like the old days with many in the crowd being too drunk and trying to mosh near the stage. Ben was given a few shots – it was Jack Daniels since the boat didn’t have Jamesons – and it was difficult for him to drink as fast. But the more he drank the easier the Jack Daniels went down. Someone bought a round of shots for the band but since only two of them were drinking, Ben got even more shots, which he said he was going to sip like an adult. He switched over from acoustic to electric before Downtown (Intro) but he still played some of the slower songs. “The more whiskey I drink the more slow sad songs I want to play. Let’s do one more sad one and then we might let the whiskey take over.”
Ben did apologize for bumming us out on a Friday or Saturday night – whatever it was (it was a Thursday). And he thanked us for singing along and said it was the second best feeling ever. Before “Last Pale Light in the West,” Ben said that for the first time he had use the copyright infringement form on a YouTube video. He thinks it’s cool when people sing or use Lucero songs and put them up on YouTube but someone had used his song for a “what really happened in Charlottesville” video and when it comes to Nazis, well, “Fuck them!” And the video is gone now. He sang the song a cappella as he sings it to his daughter as a lullaby.
Many of us are familiar with Roy’s bicycle baseball hat. During one of Ben’s solos, Roy came out with a sailor cap (that he had placed next to him during the set) that had the same logo on it but now he was wearing it on top of the baseball cap. So people are laughing and Ben is singing his heart out. There was another moment when, at the end, during “Fistful of Tears” and the band was leaving the stage and John C was acting out verse and chorus behind Ben just like Brian has done other times.
I can’t say enough how much I enjoy Lucero’s performance. I don’t have any new adjectives to describe how well Brian, John C, Roy, and Rick play and own their instruments. Rick is quiet humble perfection, John C and Brian add just the right note at the right time and Roy is so gentle and powerful at the same time. Also, I love how sweet and lovely and personal Ben’s lyrics are to me and how much he lives each song.
When the show ended, I stayed up front for a bit in the hopes of talking to Roy since he’d so nicely complimented my past write-ups. Ben came out to break down and I thanked him for the show and mentioned that I’d flown down to Nashville to see them and Steve Earle at the Ryman. Ben said he’d been nervous on that stage and I said sure because it’s so iconic. Also making him nervous was opening for Steve Earle. Then people starting coming up for photographs and to talk with Ben and soon he was lost in the crowd being his gracious self.
I waited and finally Roy came out to break down the drums and I didn’t want to yell across the stage, so I asked a woman who was kind of standing guard if she could get his attention for me. Roy came over and I went up on stage and I told him who I was and we hugged. We talked for a bit. I asked about his daughter and how difficult it must be to leave her and after a while he apologized for rambling and I told him he wasn’t rambling at all. He hugged me again when we said goodbye. If you’re keeping score (I am), that’s three hugs from Ben and two hugs from Roy.
One thing about waiting so long to write-up a show is that I get to relive it and this was a really good show to relive.
Can’t You Hear Them Howl
Texas & Tennessee
Last Night in Town
My Best Girl
Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles
Union Pacific Line
Throwback No. 2
(new song – “I don’t see no other way”)
On My Way Downtown
Women & Work
Darken My Door
Banks of the Arkansas
Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good
Chain Link Fence
Nights Like These
Last Pale Light in the West
Tears Don’t Matter Much
Drink ‘Till We’re Gone
Fistful of Tears
By Carene Lydia Lopez