Austin Lucas has a booking agent. Austin Lucas is signed to a record label. Hell, he is signed to a few record labels. So why is Austin Lucas doing a tour of house shows? Because he wants to, that’s why. I had a chance to speak with Lucas following last night’s house show in Little Rock. He explained to me that his roots are firmly in the soil of DIY punk music and that is what he grew up doing — playing house shows. He said it offers him a different kind of interaction with the crowd.
“People that come to house shows are the die-hards,” he said. He’s right; the house was filled with as many as 40 die-hard fans. Many called out for their favorite songs, and when he indulged the request, most were singing right along with him, some in harmony. There was no amplification; this was an acoustic set in the truest sense and included no fewer than 12 songs, two of which were newly written. All were very well received by the capacity crowd, but for me the highlights were “Hollywood,” “Dead Factories,” “Go West,” “Somebody Loves You,” and “Wash My Sins Away.”
When he would play new songs the crowd would listen quietly and attentively. You rarely get that type of intense crowd interaction in a club or a bar filled with people schmoozing and boozing. Now don’t go thinking that it was a perfect night, filled with stuffy call-and-response interaction with adoring fans and their idol, it was not. There were a couple of false starts that were just laughed off and there was a tongue-in-cheek admission to lifting a guitar lick from Tenacious D. There was also an attempt to coax the crowd into providing a mouth-trumpeted solo that proved to be a tall order.
You also shouldn’t think Lucas’ roots are limited to DIY punk music. The bio on his website mentions that he was “born into a folk and bluegrass lineage” and that “his father, Bob Lucas, is an accomplished musician and performer in his own right, having earned songwriting credits on two of Allison Krauss’ albums.” This punk/bluegrass duality is evident in his songs and his performance. Lucas sings with a great set of finely-tuned pipes that have that high-lonesome sound in spades, and his lyrics are full of piss, vinegar and adolescent angst.
His appearance at the show even shows this duality. He was wearing black skinny jeans and a Black Sabbath t-shirt while playing a Martin D-28 guitar. Now for those of you that are not total guitar geeks, and those of you who don’t spend all of your free time at bluegrass festivals, let me explain: Bluegrass is very strict form — think Greek orders of architecture. There are no more than three accepted models of guitars in the International Brotherhood of Bluegrass Guitar Pickers (IBBGP). All are Martins: the D-18, D-28 and D-45. Attire in the world of bluegrass is also prescribed. Overalls are permitted but your Sunday best is preferred. So that combination of the D-28 and a Black Sabbath T shirt is like serving smoked pulled pork at a kosher deli. As long as it’s tasty and folks don’t think too hard about it, you can get away with it. And Lucas gets away with it.
Seth Baldy opened the evening with a set of heartfelt original songs, many with local connections and subject matter. This was my first time hearing Baldy play and sing; I hope it is not the last. “Cottonwood Trees” and “Falling for You” are two of the standouts that I hope to hear again. He did not seem all that at ease in front of the crowd but this worked to his advantage since most of his songs had an uneasy, sentimental feeling about them. The tension tended to accentuate the songs. He set his jaw closed, and his eyes went to work like a helmsman steering headlong into stormy weather.
This being a house show in a private residence, I think it important to mention the hosts: Eric and Miloe Braden. They graciously opened up their lovely home to strangers. They rearranged a good bit of their house to accommodate the crowd comfortably and made everyone feel welcome. When I spoke with them after the show, they told me that this is the second show they have hosted and that they enjoy the music and hope to host more shows in the future.