Posted by: Necci – May 14, 2012
There is a distinct allure to Lucero that really set them apart from other acts of their kind. On their first couple of releases, the lyrical musings of Ben Nichols, which reveled in heartbreak and alcoholism, felt right at home in Richmond. When That Much Further West was released in 2003, everything changed. They went from a group with word of mouth buzz to the sort of group whose boisterous audiences would drink every drop of alcohol on the premises when they performed. In the years that have since passed, many of their diehard fans began to grow restless with records like Rebels, Rogues, & Sworn Brothers, as well as 1372 Overton Park. They felt that it just wasn’t the same band anymore. Their latest album, Women And Work, released earlier this year, may not have changed this stigma, but if you were one of the many fans that packed Epic for their long overdue return to the city, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
J Roddy Walston and The Business kicked things off. From my previous experiences seeing this group, I knew we were all in store for something fantastic. Settling into a nice groove of material from their self-titled Vagrant debut, as well as songs that will be featured on an upcoming new record, they won over the audience immediately. It was a strong forty-five minute showing for the group, showing that they have only gotten better with age. J Roddy Walston and The Business is certainly a band that wears its Southern revivalist tendencies proudly, while executing resplendent energetic soulful strides along the way. This timeless sound still connects with audiences both here in Richmond and elsewhere, and the continued success of a group like J Roddy Walston and The Business is a sign of the fact that some things never change.
I enjoyed the fact that both of the bands performing this evening were capable of filling a venue like Epic on a Thursday night. I found the sound to be really on point and left with very satisfied thoughts regarding both sets. However, I felt that the vibe of the venue was a little peculiar in relation to the type of show they were hosting. I understand that Epic acts mainly as a host for dance nights and similar functions. This is completely fine, but it’s intriguing to say the least to see security in suits and bathroom attendants handing out full sleeves of bathroom supplies. It just seemed a bit ridiculous at points. Despite any minor criticism, Epic certainly should get credit for pulling a show like this off.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that Lucero have taken on a timeless quality. By expanding their band to include horns, keys and lap steel, they've given new life to material from their earlier heyday. Tunes like “All Sewn Up,” “That Much Further West,” and “Chain Link Fence” sound like they never have before, and exceed all expectations. In other situations, I might find myself criticizing a band for expanding their line-up, but the difference for Lucero clearly lies with the legendary Nichols voice. Even with the added layers on the songs, the grit and earnest nature of Nichols feels right at home in this new dynamic. It helps to compliment material found on the last two full-lengths, but also fits well with songs that are practically a decade old at this point. The addition to their set of a cover of David Bowie’s “Modern Love,” along with their always-remarkable rendition of Jawbreaker’s “Kiss The Bottle,” was another nice touch.
In fact, I found myself quite satisfied with their set. Having discovered the group around the release of their third album, 2002's Tennessee, it was great to hear “Slow Dancing” and “Nights Like These,” both from that album. They were fitting remembrances to the days when Lucero would perform at 929 West Grace Street when they came through town; they'd later go on to record Rebels, Rogues & Sworn Brothers here in Richmond. Although that record had a hard time finding a following, the inclusion of “She’s Just That Kind of a Girl” from that album, which is one of my favorites from the latter day catalog, was a great choice. Finally, if there was one song that I knew Richmond was craving to hear, it was “Bikeriders,” from their 2005 album Nobody's Darlings. The band was happy to oblige.
Towards the tail end of the night, the band reduced their onstage number, effectively showcasing Nichols’ songwriting prowess through a lighter accompaniment. “The War” has always been a powerful number, perhaps one of his best lyrical entries, and it could have easily been played as a solo number with the crowd drunkenly screaming along. Yet the accordion accompaniment felt fitting, and helped to enunciate the tragedy that unfolds throughout the song. After a short break, the rest of the band came back out and went through another round of songs before calling it a night.
Before arriving at Epic, I almost wished for the days of the past; it was a real treat to see Lucero play in smaller rooms, and I'd like to see them in a more intimate environment like that again someday. However, for what they have evolved into as a group, Lucero belongs on a stage that can capture the restless energy and intensity they have built up over their years of endless touring. This is where they deserve to be seen, and more power to them for not forgetting their past along the way.
Words by Shannon Cleary
Images by Patrick Moran