Maybe it was the lights, or the huge stage, or their new record deal, but Lucero is no longer a rag-tag group of hometown (or neighbor) kids, screeching the paint off the walls at Vino's. They're a bona fide, tight, seamless rock 'n' roll band. Country-ish tunes that used to plod along are now punched-up and driven by palm-muted guitars. Rough spots are smoothed over with a pedal steel guitar and keys. The only thing that remains the same is Ben Nichols' gravel-throated voice. Brian Venable's guitar work is more polished now, but never calculated, and the rhythm section, even between swigs of beer, never misses a beat.
Fearing the wrath of Hurricane Ike, organizers bumped the schedule up one hour to be sure to squeeze Lucero in at the end of the night. Opening acts Dan Montgomery, crowd-favorite Cory Branan, Justin Townes Earle (son of Steve), and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit all played truncated sets to get the show in before the storm clouds rolled in.
But it never rained more than a few drops. The opening sets, though brief, were strong, with lots of crowd interaction. Highlights included two rock-star-esque cameos from Cory Branan during the Lucero set. Holding a red Dixie cup, Branan strolled out to the front of the stage and lazily sang two words worth of back-up vocals.
Lucero didn't disappoint, playing for over two hours, and burning through 32 songs including 4 new tunes. It's never easy to make out the lyrics as Nichols shouts, but one new song did mention “White Water Tavern nights.” During “Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good,” the band was actually flashed by a couple of young ladies, causing Nichols to drop a line and shake his head while saying, “Thank you ladies.” A good time was had by all, especially the band, who thanked the audience for braving the weather at every turn. Bassist John Stubblefield even told the crowd, “We're the music, you're the band.”