Memphis band Lucero understands that, having spent more than a decade touring relentlessly and expanding its country/punk/soul/rock sound. The band’s new album Women & Work (ATO Records) is its second for a major (10th overall) and already the best-selling of its career. ATO Records currently has a hot hand with other beloved touring rock bands like My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers, and The Alabama Shakes.
It wasn’t exactly a packed house when Lucero played Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom last Friday (5/11) with John Henry & The Engine, but it was an incredibly loyal one. Like the kind of loyal that screams the words to every song and repeatedly shouts out requests between tunes.
Which was perfectly fine with the band. “We’ve been on tour for about two months, and I gotta tell you: it’s nice to be back in Tennessee,” said leader Ben Nichols, flanked by bandmates Brian Venable, Todd Beene, Roy Perry, Rick Steff, John C. Stubblefield and a killer horn section. Nichols writes evocative songs about forlorn brawlers who get their hearts broken, smoke too many cigarettes, medicate with booze, and wander the streets alone at night. In other words: kind of perfect for a rowdy Friday night audience trying to blow off a little steam.
The band opened with “On My Way Downtown,” a new track from Women & Work that married a danceable rock ‘n’ roll groove to the deeply soulful horns closely associated with the band’s hometown. On “Nights Like These,” weepy pedal steel (courtesy of sometime Glossary member Beene) pushed the band into tears-in-your-beer country territory. Women & Work’s title track showcased Steff’s righteous boogie woogie piano along with the horns, bringing to mind some of the great ramshackle bar bands like Faces.
Nichols was very congenial, in a tattooed tough guy kind of way. With cocktail in hand, he addressed each song request: “Yeah, we’ll definitely do that,” or “No, not a chance,” or “It’s 50-50.” Fan favorites included “Here At the Starlite,” “I Can’t Stand To Leave You,” “Bad Tattoos,” and “Tears Don’t Matter” with help from fellow Memphian Cory Branan.
The band returned for an encore with “Hearts On Fire” and “Nobody’s Darlings,” before Nichols announced that he had one more song left in him. “I know how this works–you’re not supposed to end with a new song, or a slow song,” he said. “So here’s a new, slow song.” The band closed it out with Women & Work’s gospel-inflected “Go Easy,” and the reverent audience hung around.
But hey, that’s loyalty for you.