Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lucero: Live in New York

Posted By on Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 1:03 PM

[Editor's Note: Frequent Flyer contributor Stephen Deusner is a former Memphian now living in New York City.]

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I haven’t seen a Lucero show in nearly a decade, when they were a local band playing to a handful of Memphians at the Hi-Tone. So imagine my shock when I ventured out into Manhattan last night to catch the Ramblin’ Roadshow & Memphis Revue at Webster Hall. Newly relocated to the city, I figured the venue would be fairly small and cramped, holding a couple of hundred Tennessee ex-pats and some curious onlookers. I was way off. When did Lucero get huge?

For one thing, Webster Hall is enormous, and while the balcony was roped off as VIP only, the floor itself holds more than just about any venue in Memphis save the Orpheum or the Shell. It was surprisingly spacious, even for a band touring behind a major label debut that ranked 114 in its first week on the Billboard charts. Could Lucero even fill half of Webster Hall, especially with an early show that started at 7 p.m.?

Openers Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm opened to a handful of early concertgoers, and the crowd slowly trickled in throughout their set and Amy Lavere’s impressive show. As a revue, there wasn’t much interaction between the artists — Lavere didn’t duet with Ben Nichols, and Malcolm didn’t jam with Brian Venable — but the lineup did expose some of the musical veins (specifically the juke joint blues from North Mississippi) running through the songs of all three acts.

By the time Lucero took the stage, Webster Hall was packed. There were easily more than a 1,000 people there. More surprising, the crowd was intensely excited to see the band. They sang along to old songs like “That Much Further West” and pumped fists to new ones like “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble.” As the show progressed, the excitement escalated into something approaching a riot. Fans threw half-full cups of beer and ice on stage, barely missing Venable and Nichols. There was crowd-surfing, which kept the band's beleaguered stage manager busy all night. And they actually moshed to “Sixes and Sevens” and “Johnny Davis.” When it threatened to become a bit too violent, John Stubblefield admonished the audience to tone it down a bit so that none of the ladies in the crowd got hurt.

In this setting, the band amped its barroom rock up to fill the venue, with the help of pedal steel player Todd Beene, keyboard player Rick Steff, and a horn section led by Jim Spake. They sounded perfectly at home in front of such a raucous crowd and fed off their excitement. When his voice strained on the chorus of “What Are You Willing to Lose,” Nichols passed the mic stand to a particularly rowdy member of the audience. Lucero were just as excited by the crowd as the crowd was by the band. Unfortunately, they were allowed only one short encore before Webster Hall shut everything down to transform itself into a dance club for the rest of the night. Only reluctantly did the audience shuffle out when the lights came up, but most of the band returned to the stage to shake hands with fans.

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