I decided this year to go to Lucero’s Family Christmas in Memphis. The last time I was there was in 2010, so I thought it was time to go again. I was in Memphis from Thursday to Sunday and you can read about my trip starting here.
My Lyft driver had a very Christmassy decorated car and I commented on that and he was happy that I had noticed. I got to Minglewood Hall soon after the doors opened and staked out a place in front of the soundboard. Almost all the places at the front of the stage were taken plus the stage is high, so for me it is easier to see from further back. I noticed the eclectic mix of songs coming over the sound system and asked Joe Brown their sound engineer who had selected the songs and it turned out that he had. We had a brief conversation and I said when people ask me what kind of music I like, my answer is, “Good music,” and Joe said that was a good answer.
They did not have Ketel One at the bar and my choices were Grey Goose (no way), Tito’s, Old Distillery (local). I asked about Old Distillery and he bartender told me it was not good. So, I had Tito’s and it was not awful. In fact, it was better than I expected.
The opening act was local band and I wanted very much to like them. After all, the band had chosen them to open. They thanked Brian (Venable – guitarist) for the opportunity. The members (Alec McIntyre, Meredith Lones, George Williford, and Charlotte Watson) came up on stage and started tuning. The bassist unplugged without turning down, which made a loud pop. The band sounded like so many of the mediocre punk band that I sat through at CBGBs waiting for the main act or my friends to come on stage. There was little to no applause for most of the songs. I wish they had given a better local band a chance.
During the break, I talked with a guy from San Diego. His Knoxville friend had introduced him to Lucero, so he was staying with his friend and his wife and the three of them had come down for the show. San Diego guy wanted the horns and I told him he was going to be disappointed because there would not be horns. Another guy on the other side of me was telling his friend (very loudly) that they better do “Chain Link Fence” and I was thinking they do that song almost every time.
They started with “Among the Ghosts” and later in the set, Ben (Nichols – vocals/guitar) said that they were going to pretty much stick to the setlist that they had been performing all year. John C Stubblefield was wearing a Vandoliers t-shirt (now that was opening act worthy of Lucero). Between “Texas & Tennessee,” Ben’s stepdaughter performed a pretty song on the keyboards that she had written for her mother, Nina, for her birthday. Ben said he was having a good time – kids were there. His mom was there. Before “Mom,” he mentioned that John C’s mom was there also. A lot of people were talking and leaving during “Mom” and I have never understood why so many of their audience give the quiet songs the shaft. The stage was filled with their family and friends surrounding the band.
Ben said his voice was not good. He had sung like an angel on Wednesday and then went out drinking with the sound guy and now Joe was probably saying that Ben sounds terrible. At one point, Ben joked that this was about Christmas as it was going to get.
They played “Nobody’s Darlings,” which I do not think I have heard in a while. It is the song – played live – that first made me fall in love with this band. I remember thinking that they know exactly who they are.
When they came out for the encore, Ben said he did not have anywhere else to go. At the end of “My Best Girl,” he said it is a hard song to sing when your wife and daughter are there. The audience sang the last verse and Ben said, “I think we done enough damage here.”
After the show, I hugged Joe and wished him a Merry Christmas. Then I saw Roy (Berry – drums) jump down from the stage and I went up and told him it was good to see him and wished him a Merry Christmas. A woman rushed up and put her just purchased album in his face for him to sign, so I walked away. I do not have time for rudeness like that.
Rounding out the band is Rick Steff (keyboards), who lifts the band up in ways that I do not think they ever imagined could happen. Ben’s vocals and lyrics kill me with their truth – no matter how old you are or what your gender is, you can relate. Brian’s guitar brings the sadness or gleefulness. Roy’s drumming is light and powerful. And John C is that rhythmic backbone.
By Carene Lydia Lopez