Review: Lucero at the Bluebird Theater, with Larry and His Flask, 3/31/12


Early in Lucero's set for a sold-out crowd at the Bluebird on Saturday night, frontman Ben Nichols detailed the toll of the band's latest stint in Colorado. Between the band's appearance at the Aggie Theatre in Fort Collins on Friday, the pair of shows at the Bluebird, an in-store at Twist and Shout and a low-key gig at Illegal Pete's earlier that day, the band had built up plenty of memories. "I'm not gonna say I'm hung over from last night ... I'm not gonna say I did six shots of whiskey," Nichols said at the outset, his speaking voice sounding a bit haggard. Later, Nichols added, "We have too good of a time. We always leave you like crack."

Colorado's apparent excesses didn't stop the Memphis based octet from laying down a heartfelt and stirring set, a live performance that had the capacity crowd singing along, raising their plastic glasses and swaying arm-in-arm for the entire two hours of the show. Complemented by the frenzied and frenetic energy of opening act Larry and His Flask, Lucero capped off their time in the centennial state with a wide-ranging set, a performance that drew from more than a decade's worth of material.

The stage crew raised a massive crimson tapestry emblazoned with the band's name and log, and by the time Lucero walked on stage, the audience had their glasses raised and their attention fixed. A few songs into their set, the tapestry fell to reveal another canvas and another image. The band's name was spelled out with the smoke of discarded cigarette butts in an ashtray.

Opening with slower tunes like "On My Way Downtown," "I Can't Feel a Thing" and Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle," the band set out a measured pace, building in intensity over the course of the two-hour set. It was a structure that allowed each section of the sextet to shine at its own pace. Nichols' voice showed little signs of the abandon and drinking he mentioned in his intro spiel. His guitar work was subtle and straightforward on the country riffs of "Downtown" and "Bottle." His delivery on lines from the band's newest release, Women and Work, matched the sincerity and depth of his vocal delivery on tunes like "Drink Till We're Gone."

The rest of the band showed off their chops as the set progressed. Todd Beene's work on the pedal steel guitar seemed to gain in intensity and emotion, shining most brightly on stretches during "I'll Just Fall," while Rick Steff's bright piano lines were at their most affecting toward the end of the show, especially on "A Dangerous Thing" and "Hold Fast." The more recent addition of a two-person horn section worked in a live setting; the band's punk, country and honky-tonk roots weren't lost with the saxophone lines. Instead, the dual voices found a subtle role in the background, adding weight and depth to the material.

The combination of balladry and blues, the fusion of honky-tonk and musical meditation never failed to capture the audience of die-hard fans. Looking at the crowd from the Bluebird's balcony, it was easy to spot dozens of plastic glasses raised during every song. As the band played its final encore near midnight, the sound of voices raised for the choruses of "Dangerous Thing," "Drink Till We're Gone" and "Hold Fast" was impossible to miss.

The effect didn't go unnoticed by Nichols and the rest of the Lucero crew. Nichols took a long swig of whiskey before the final tune, falling prey to the energy and emotion of the band's final stop in Denver. After he growled out the final chorus of "Hold Fast," playing over Beene's pedal steel and Steff's evocative piano lines, Nichols seemed to know the band had done what they'd set out to do for their extended stay in Colorado. "We can't do any better than that, so we'll all say goodnight," Nichols declared.

Page down for Critic's Notebook, as well as photos and a review of Larry and His Flask's set.

While Lucero's performance benefited from the balance between slow balladry and speedy drinking anthems, Larry and His Flask's performance reveled in sheer speed. The Oregon-based sextet came out with a clear mission in mind: to whip the growing crowd into a dancing frenzy. Drummer Jamin Marshall stood at his kit without the aid of a stool, bashing out rhythms for the ensemble's heady mix of hootenanny folk, breakneck punk and dizzying gypsy reels.

Meanwhile, lead guitarist and vocalist Ian Cook spelled out impossibly dense and gorgeous melodies on his six-string, lending the tunes a dazzling depth. The addition of mandolin, banjo, stand-up bass, occasional lines from trombones, French horns and trumpets and some input from Lucero piano player Rick Steff on accordion only added to that lush sound.

During the course of their 45-minute set, the members of Larry and His Flask made the stage their own, swapping positions and exhorting to crowd to participate in unlikely and unexpected ways. As they belted out their crazed brand of carnival folk music, several members jumped off the stage, mixing with audience members and starting impromptu dance parties. Cook made the move several times, mingling with the audience as he kept up his impressive work on the lead guitar.

At one point, he and Marshall had the entire front of the floor crouching down and awaiting further instructions -- at the musicians' cue, the audience jumped up as one, launching into the final dance with what felt like a single mind. The chaos and energy of Larry and His Flask's set served as a dizzying introduction for the headlining act. While Lucero's two-hour performance didn't boast the sheer zaniness of the opening set, the effect felt contagious.


Personal Bias: While I'm warming to the band's latest release, the live versions of songs from deeper in the Lucero catalogue were the most exciting and affecting moments of Saturday's show.

Random detail: Larry and His Flask drummer, Jamin Marshall, declared that Denver is slowly becoming the sextet's second home.

By the way: Steff plays a mean accordion.

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