Lucero Lights It Up at 9:30 Club

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There are some bands, from the moment you first hear them, that just reach out and grab you. I remember exactly where I was and what track I was listening to when I first heard bands such as Hüsker Du, Uncle Tupelo, Drive-By Truckers and Ryan Bingham. Such was the case last year when I first listened to Lucero’s self-titled release, issued in 2001. I was so energized about the band that “Lucero” was the first band I downloaded using my new iPhone a while back. (The only problem: what I actually downloaded was an artist also named Lucero, who happens to be a Mexican version of Madonna.)

I got the chance to have a few beers with Lucero bassist John C. Stubblefield and some of the other band members before Wednesday night’s show at the 9:30 Club. The band has been together for 14 years now—and the tightness and camaraderie of this group is readily apparent both in the bar and onstage. The core group met in and around the Memphis music scene and have spent the past several years touring heavily, including a recent tour with Social Distortion (I am told that Mike Ness is a HUGE Lucero fan and asked them to tour with him after seeing them live).

They had played the 9:30 Club on several occasions, including an opening slot for the Drive-By Truckers on the first of their three shows to close out 2011, but had never played the venue as headliners. While I will always love the band’s earlier material, which to me was inherently Southern, and replete with visceral, raw images fueled by feelings of loss, emotional desolation and plenty of whiskey (not unlike classic Drive-By Truckers or Slobberbone records), their new album Women & Work represents a clear evolution and step forward for the band. A self proclaimed “love song to Memphis,” the record combines the edginess of their punk roots with the music traditions of Stax Records, strongly evocative of country soul and gospel. With jagged edges and smooth surfaces Women & Work is their best album to date and already has my vote for one of the best of the year.

The band has added two horns to their live show, creating both a bigger and richer sound. Despite the larger format, the band maintained a very close connection to their fans throughout the show. It was a pretty wild night at the 9:30 – the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins in overtime to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs—and many a DC hockey fan present erupted when the news came across our collective devices. There were several fracases in the crowd. Much whiskey was consumed on the stage, and certainly in the audience. Salty veterans of the road, Lucero handled it all with aplomb.

Immediately following their last number, they also returned to the back bar in the club to join their friends and fans for drinks and fellowship – something that far too few bands do anymore.

While they may bring tinges of other great southern bands, when you listen to Lucero you quickly realize that they cannot be mistaken for anyone else —including Mexican pop divas. They are a legitimate, rough-and-tumble rock and roll outfit that has stood the test of time and is clearly finding its stride with a new label (ATO), a new recording space and a new horn section. ATO (which also has the DBTs and My Morning Jacket under its umbrella) is a label that clearly fits their style and nurtures their artistic individuality.

I was pleased to see a number of the Weeping Elvii in attendance at this show as well as other good friends. I did a survey of several of the folks I saw at the show afterwards.

My friend Cort offered this: “They ripped.”

Enough said.

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