The Crescent Ballroom has a restaurant/bar in the front and upstairs – Cocina 10. The venue is in what looks to be part financial district and part hipster central for Phoenix. We were able to park behind the venue, where the tour bus was, which costs $5.
Denise and I sat in the outside patio in the front. I had their housemade sangria and a Sonoran Dog (which I had been told you have to try if you are in Phoenix) and I liked it. Their version is a peppered bacon wrapped hot dog topped with mayo, refried beans, onions, jalapeños, mustard, and diced tomatoes served on a toasted bun. I added guacamole and sour cream because, why not? The waitstaff was friendly.
We were early and I could see the people who had paid for the VIP tickets (access to the band before the show, signed posters, etc.). Since Lucero is a band that hangs out with their fans either before or after the show, I was disappointed that I would not get to speak to any of them. The Brooklyn show did not offer VIP, so I was able to talk with Rick (Steff – keyboards and accordion), Brian (Venable – electric guitar), and Ben (Nichols – singer/electric and acoustic guitar).
Just before 7pm I lined up right outside with everyone else and when I got to the woman handling will call there was a problem again when they could not find my name. I usually buy my tickets early and through Lucero’s website and that list is always either not at the box office or is brought in after people are entering the venue. Eventually she got the right list and I was in. Denise was tired and had gone back to the car for a nap and I texted her that there were bleachers and she should come in now so that she could get a good seat, which she did. The venue is shoebox shaped like Bell House with the stage and bleachers on the wide walls. The stage was not that high and there was no barrier between it and the audience so I put my drink and stuff in the stage far right corner on Brian’s side.
The opening act for this leg of the tour was supposed to be Strand of Oaks, who I was looking forward to checking out. Sadly, he had to bow out because of a death in the family and Jonny Fritz was replacing him for most of the tour. In Lucero’s announcement, Phoenix had not been listed so I was interested to see who the opening act would be. Turned out to be a shit-kicking local country band, American Longspurs. The band members are Zachary Zimmerman, Drew Switzer, Chester Carmer, Nick Pawlowski, and John Churchill. They do not list who plays what but instruments were electric bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin/fiddle, and drums. They were a lot of fun. The acoustic guitarist sang lead on most songs but the mandolin/fiddle player did start them off. Denise and I both felt that he totally made the band and should have been up front doing most of the lead singing and lead playing. Two covers they performed were “Okie from Muskogee” (Merle Haggard) and “Living on Tulsa Time,” (Don Williams) so that should give you an idea of what type of band they are.
During their set, I noticed people looking over to the side and looked over and saw Ben at the side of the stage watching the band. I bought a shot for him since I had not paid VIP prices to hang out with him and he said he was going to sip it slowly. I told him that I had seen them in Brooklyn last month (“Wow”) and that I was in Phoenix to visit my sister and see them. He said I was killing two birds with one stone and I agreed. I asked if the set would be basically the same and he said that it would. With this tour and working with mostly the new songs and integrating the old songs he said that he felt more comfortable with a setlist. I requested “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?” and he said he was not sure if he could remember it. I told him that was all right. If he could fit it in, great, and if not, that was okay too. He put his hand out to shake mine but I went in for the hug anyway.
At the break I went to get a drink and came back to find a big guy standing in my spot. I moved him and he was fine with that. He was with two women and they were interested in what I was writing and I told them I had a small blog that was mostly for friends and family (although others – like The Old 97’s website – have picked up some quotes from me). When they saw the roadie tuning Brian’s guitar they mentioned how cool that job would be. I told them I used to be a live sound engineer and that was the cool job. They asked who I had done sound for and I said mostly small gigs but I did do sound for Pete Seeger. None of them had ever heard of him. I had to explain his history, Woody Guthrie (who one woman had heard of), and his influence on the folk scene of the 1960s. I also mentioned “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” which they had heard of and I told them that he had written those songs and did not copyright them so he never got any royalties. As a music lover, I do not know how you can appreciate what is happening today without knowing about the music of the past and appreciate current artists’ influences.
I saw Joe (Brown – sound engineer) and we shook hands.
Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” came over the sound system and we were ready.
As Ben said, the setlist was mostly the same from what I had seen in Brooklyn and what they have been doing on this tour. As always, Ben’s voice and lyrics speak to my heart like almost no one else can. Brian’s solos were great as were Rick’s (who did not wear his silver sequin jacket). John C (Stubblefield – electric bass) holds down that rhythm section like a master. During “Tears Don’t Matter Much” he went into the crowd (I could not see because of where I was) and Ben was saying “Keep him. Keep him.” Roy (Berry – drums) is so amazing to watch. I keep thinking that he is barely touching the kit but then you can hear this great big drum sound.
There were familiar stories about Izzy (not liking commercials on Grandma’s TV) and Tim Barry’s daughter (“Union Pacific Line” and the fact that it is not a passenger line). There were a lot of shots brought up on stage, some of which got passed to John C and Roy. A woman passed up an album to be autographed on stage.
During his solo set, Ben played “Joining the Army” before “The War” for a war double. When he played “Loving” he said that was his favorite song on the new album, which does not surprise me since he loves the slow sad songs (as do I).
I love how they chose old songs that fit in so perfectly with the new songs. You would think the new songs were old favorites (which they are rapidly becoming).
Ben thanked us for staying until the end, especially since it was a Monday night. He said it was a long night, which was no one’s fault but his own [drinking and tuning and talking]. John C went up to the mic to tell us that Lucero loved us and other stuff. They continued to the end with a “fake” encore, using John C’s interlude as the excuse of being the time that would have been spent walking on and off. Ben said, “Fuck it, I’m doing all the shots,” and Brian brought out the garbage can and set it next to Ben – just in case.
It was a wonderful Lucero night full of moments we have all experienced before and full of new moments to think about and laugh about.
Joe was back on stage for the breakdown and this time I got a hug and I told him it was great show and he said it was good to see me again.
Among the Ghosts
Bottom of the Sea
To My Dearest Wife
Downtown/On My Way Downtown
Texas & Tennessee
Union Pacific Line
Everything Has Changed
No Roses No More
Chain Link Fence
Sweet Little Thing
Nights Like These
That Much Further West
Joining the Army
Hello My Name is Izzy
Tears Don’t Matter Much
For the Lonely Ones
Here at the Starlite
By Carene Lydia Lopez