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“Alright, alright, we’re all here,” said Patrick Stickles, frontman for New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus. The band had just finished “A More Perfect Union,” and although the Paradise Rock Club was unfortunately void of Titus’ usual massive amoeba of happily thrashing punk fans, the tune was incredibly well received by diehards and supposed newcomers alike. In their short opening slot, Titus Andronicus treated us to nine tracks from their two latest albums, 2012’s Local Business and 2010‘s The Monitor. They closed with the lovely “No Future Part Three,” endlessly riddling with joy, “You will always be a loser / You will always be a loser.”
When the crew wheeled out a drum set adorned with an alligator head and seven large, tattooed, greying, jean-on-jean, cowboy boot clad gentlemen replaced the strikingly skinny opener – I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from Memphis Tennessee’s Lucero.
The band opened with “That Much Further West” from their 2003 release of the same name, setting the tone for the rest of the night with bubbling animation. Fans sang with lead singer Ben Nichols on every verse at the front of the stage, offering him a drink or two or eight as he raised a plastic cup at the end of the song, shouting in raspy-drawl “Cheers, Boston!”
Lucero began as just Ben Nichols and Brian Venable in 1998 — two guitarists playing punk with a country overlay. The two soon picked up bassist John Stubblefield and drummer Roy Berry who had been playing all throughout Memphis and began to cultivate their sound. Early Lucero had a small fan base for their punk-country alternative conglomerate, but in 2009, the band signed with Universal and truly broadened their style and audience. They embraced a distinctly southern-soul vibe that began to outweigh their punkish beginnings. Lucero is now signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, and with the addition of Todd Beene’s pedal steel, Rick Steff’s piano, accordion, and organ, and horn section , their sound has only gotten bigger. In an interview with Rolling Stone last year Nichols stated, “We’re not flying by the seat of our pants quite as much as we were in the old days… We’re in the best spot organizationally that we’ve ever been.”
Lucero has played over 150 concerts each year consistently for about fifteen years, but that didn’t do a thing to deter them from enjoying every moment of their time at the Paradise. Lucero operates sans-setlist, handpicking from audience recommendations for each song. Jim Spake and Scott Thompson on trumpet and sax punctuate every verse with an exclamation point, while Rick Steff treats the crowd to some rowdy ragtime on keyboard.
Titus’ Patrick Stickles asked me to cite Steff’s “kind and wise” disposition as one of the best parts of their tour. Although the connection between Tennessee’s country-soul swinging Lucero and New Jersey’s binge-punk triumphant Titus may seem initially hazy, it is important to note this is the second time the bands have toured together – the first for about six months in 2009.
The most interesting thing about this duo is that it draws in fans of all sorts of people: women with eyes glued to Nichols, men with eyes glued to the women, lots of plaid, lots of baseball hats, Titus kids looking to fight. Fans cycled like a revolving door from front to back of the venue but still seemed to stick around to sample something they might not have heard before.
Although Lucero is touring to promote their latest album, Women & Work from 2012, the band treated their audience to gems from albums past and present. Two crowd favorites were “Into Your Eyes,” which first appeared on Tennessee in 2002, and the new, bestselling single from their 2013 EP, “Texas & Tennessee.” In a way, the two songs are incredibly similar. They substitute the rollicking Lucero with a slower meditation on love – of all kinds. Nichols introduced “Into Your Eyes” as the “second song I ever wrote for this band.” His vocals those of a yearning, classic love, “Well I’m not supposed to be here with you / But how can I leave?” Years later, raspier “Texas & Tennessee” moves away from young unrequited love and into true sentimentality, illustrating his love for these places where everything was intense but honest: “It was the early days of of rock n roll / It was Otis, it was Memphis soul.”
When it came time to close for the night, it seemed Nichols wasn’t quite ready to leave. All but one of his bandmates had disappeared backstage, and he stood under a single spotlight, smiling at the audience who supported him throughout the evening. “Thank you, I like this place actually,” he laughed. After a few minutes, the rest of Lucero joined him onstage for an encore of sorts filled with long, instrumentation solos and dancing.