Minglewood Hall (outside), Midtown Memphis TN, April 23, 2016
• Ben Nichols of Lucero stood directly in front of the stage watching Young Valley for a while, until he was unable to do so because of folks asking for pictures and autographs. I'm a huge fan, but I've met him before and he was enjoying the show, so I didn't bother him.
• Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones was also in the crowd, but he was more hanging out than watching. He looked completely different in street clothes, to the point that my friend and I were debating whether it was him or not. It was.
Mark Edgar Stuart was next on the lineup. I haven't heard him nearly as much as I've heard the rest of the acts, but he was damn good, funny, and engaging. He seems to me something of a mix of folk music + Willie Nelson (vocally) + Randy Newman. Mark sang his new single "Don't Blame Jesus," which was timely and HILARIOUS, and got the crowd into high spirits.
• Pabst was the beer sponsor of the event. You could go inside and get whatever drinks and craft beers you wanted, but once you get settled in for some good music, you just want what's nearby, so it was PBR and Old Tankard (their uh, craftier beer) the rest of the evening.
• The edgy shirt vendors and the BMX team riding at the back of the event brought in some of the vibe of Lucero's more punk-esque early days, but generally this was a regular Joe kinda crowd. Lots of families and lots of diversity. Hardly any hipsters though.
Cory Branan played the next slot. It was just him and his guitar, but he was magnetic.
He played mostly his more well known up-tempo tunes. He's a born entertainer, but not in the way of showmanship. He just knows how to get the crowd in the palm of his hand by being real and open. Guy should be a lot bigger than he is.
• There were food trucks to keep us fed. The famous Central BBQ, which I've never actually had the pleasure of eating, had a truck, but I figure I'm gonna have the real deal in the original location when I finally take the dive. I went with a Cuban sandwich from the Food Geek truck and it was divine.
The crowd loaded in for St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Not to say I wasn't there for Lucero, but I was a little more excited to finally see these guys. They did not disappoint, to understate things a bit. The band was just (insert fire emoji). They're tight as hell but loose in the groove - and not in a robotic 'white dudes approximating the swing of soul music' kind of way - naw, they're the real damn deal. Paul sang his ass off - I've never seen a video of him half-assing it. It's a wonder he manages to still be a …um, larger gentleman. He probably won't be for long, because he just lays it all out there, sweating like a roofer and hollering like a Pentecostal preacher.
They played a bunch of songs from Half the City, a vein-popping cover of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)," and…and…. they announced that the new album is DONE, and played 3 songs from it. One of them had the crowd swooning and shouting and raising hands skyward. Nobody knew a word of it, I couldn't even discern a title, but it was indescribably bad ass. What a show.
This band, when it finally gets a Grammy nod and some air time in front of a few million eyes and ears, will be huge. Not if, just when. It's going to happen. They may not be bringing much new to the table genre-wise, but they just live inside of soul music. Their songs are killer and well-written, but the experience is the thing. It's church.
•The weather was perfect. Late April is when all festivals in the south should be scheduled, even though that's not possible. It was sunny, 80, and breezy, then cooling down and breezy. Wonderful.
The main event was up next. Lucero took the stage with no horn section. I haven't seen them play without horns since 2012 or thereabout. It was a rock show.
Ben and the boys played all the hits and the crowd sang along with hands in the air. Memphis being the band's home base, this makes sense, but I've never seen so many Lucero tattoos. One was on a guy's head. That's the kind of dedication this band inspires.
We got all the favorites like "Tears Don't Matter Much," "Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good," and "My Best Girl." We also got a good mix of Lucero's newer tunes like "Texas and Tennessee" and "Woke Up in New Orleans." On the albums, these more polished songs sound a lot different from the band's earlier punk-edged persona, but live, they fit right into the flow, the ragged vocals and gritty musicianship blending everything into a pure rock n' roll feast.
• People kept passing Ben Nichols drinks. Not water, not beer, not even mixed drinks. Nothing so refreshing for the dude singing his heart out in the warm air. Nope - pure Jack, full cups. He was fine with it.
If you've never seen Lucero live and they come within driving distance, go. I don't care if you're not particularly a fan. The show is where they make the thing work. They'll never be the best songwriters, the best singers, or the best players (aside from Rick Steff), but there's something about the mix of these southern boys, a warm night, and some cold beverages that can turn a passing interest into a lifetime love affair.
Ben played this oldie, "Outsiders," from his previous (previous as in 19 years ago) band Red 40.