As I detailed here, my birthday had sucked so far. I was visiting my sister and Phoenix and had bought tickets for Lucero for my birthday and the day was not going well. I walked into the Crescent Ballroom as soon as the doors opened and found myself a place at the stage. There were two guys next to me and we started up a conversation. They were from Texas but one had moved to Arizona, so the Texas friend joined the Arizona friend to see the show. We talked about Lucero and other music. My mood immediately began improving. On the other side of them was a group of women who had seen the Lucero shows in Seattle and Portland and they were drunk and loud. Last year at the Crescent Ballroom I met people who did not know who Pete Seeger or Woody Guthrie were. Now I was eavesdropping on a conversation about Leadbelly on the other side of me.
The hour from 7pm to 8pm when the Vandoliers made their appearance felt like the longest hour in history. But the band made the wait worthwhile. They hit the stage running and they rocked and brought the house down. The Dallas-Fort Worth band is Joshua Fleming (lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Mark Moncrieff (electric bass), Guyton Sanders (drums), Travis Curry (fiddle), Dustin Fleming (electric guitar), and Cory Graves (keys/trumpet). If you want to label the band, you could say alt-country or cow-punk. Rhett Miller is a mentor. Joshua Fleming sent Miller a bunch of phone demos and received a 3000-word email in response, which was a master class in songwriting. The Vandoliers have since toured with the Old 97’s. The music hitting my body felt so good and my mood kept on improving. The women from Seattle knew all the lyrics and Fleming mentioned that he was not used to people knowing their songs. Curry would step up and sing out loud despite not having a mic. The trumpet gave some of the songs a Tex-Mex feel. We sang “oooos” for one song. This is a band I would definitely check out again.
They followed their setlist except for the second to last song (“The Red Dress”), which was a request.
I liked how each member’s setlist had a different symbol on the bottom.
The Vandoliers were a wonderful warm-up for Lucero. As soon as Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” started playing, the crowd went wild.
I am running out of things I can say about Lucero. This is my 27th review of their shows and what else can I say? Ben Nichols’ lyrics and his singing move me. Brian Venable’s guitar rocks and swings. John C Stubblefield is a might giant on stage with the bass hitting you in the pit of your stomach. Roy Berry’s drumming is hard and soft and loud and quiet all at the same time. And Rick Steff’s keyboards brings it all together and lifts them up to heights they could not get to without him. (I noticed Rick was using a Leslie, which he may have been using before but for some reason it is the first time I noticed it.)
This night was a mix of songs from the new album and old favorites. One person requested “Everything Has Changed,” which pleased Ben because it is his favorite song from the new album and no one ever requests it. I did see a setlist on the floor but I do not know how much of it Ben stuck to. Sometimes I could hear him telling Roy what the next song would be. Before “I Can Get Us Out of Here” I heard him say something like, “Slow. Not ‘Born to Run.’ Like…” and then I missed the last part. He did not seem to be getting drunk until midway through his solo set when he was drinking more of his bourbon, so we did not get a lot of conversation. When he started “My Best Girl,” the first note out of his mouth was not good, so he started over and drank some whiskey and said, “God bless America and whiskey.” Although early in the set, they started a request, “Watch It Burn” but did not get past the first verse because they could not remember it.
Ben mentioned before “Hold Me Close” that his brother the criminal defense attorney (not the screenwriter/director) came up with the best line in that song and I knew immediately which line he meant because it has always been one of my favorite lines. Towards the end he said there would be two more songs and then said four more songs but no encore. For “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” John C came right into the audience and since I had been standing in front of him that meant that he was right next to me playing his bass. He stayed in the audience for the last song.
At the end of the night I shook Rick’s hand and told him I liked the shorter hair and beard. I also gave my condolences on the loss of his mother. I got a nice big hug from John C for my birthday and went over to the sound board to say hello to Joe Brown. The sound this year was so much better than last year. It was muddy at some points last year and this year the sound was bright and clear.
I was going to wait for Ben at the bar but on his way from the greenroom to the bar he was surrounded by people at the merch table. I watched people taking selfie after selfie and then thought I should get him some good bourbon from the club bar but they had just closed. I waited my turn and then walked up to him and he said, “You were in the front row all night.” I said, “Yes, I was. I’m from New York City,” and he interrupted with, “I can tell” and we joked about my strong accent for a second. I then told him it was my birthday, which had been sucky until Lucero came on but then I started to correct myself to say when the Vandoliers came on and at the same moment Ben said the same thing, also correcting me. He joked that I was 32 and said I wish and that I was 62 and he said it was 10 years older than his parents. Oy. Some way to make me feel old. I told him I had to come to Phoenix since they were not playing the east coast this year although I had seen his solo show in February in New Jersey. But I would be seeing the band again for the Christmas show in Memphis, which he told me is his wife’s birthday. Then I told him about seeing Frank Turner last week (which hopefully I will write up soon because it was an excellent show) and how Frank opened up singing solo the songs from his latest album and then for the second half of the show the Sleeping Souls joined him to perform the older songs. Ben stroked his chin and said he had not heard about that and it was an interesting idea. I encouraged him to do that with Lucero. All the time we were talking there were hugs for various reasons and then one final hug and I found Denise and we went home.
A most improved and good birthday.
Among the Ghosts
No Roses No More
All These Love Songs
Chain Link Fence
Sweet Little Thing
Watch It Burn (request-did not finish song)
Here at the Starlite
Kiss the Bottle (Jawbreakers cover that they have not been doing lately)
Downtown/On My Way Downtown
Across the River
Texas & Tennessee
Everything Has Changed
I Can Get Us Out of Here
I’ll Just Fall
Drink ‘Till We’re Gone
Bottom of the Sea
The Last Song
Ben solo with Rick
Hold Me Close
Band comes back
Hello My Name is Izzy
My Best Girl
Nights Like These
Tears Don’t Matter Much
Fistful of Tears (Ben and Rick)
By Carene Lydia Lopez