(all photos by Keith Klenowski)
Friday night at the Southgate House I went to a show that featured one of the best triple bills I’ve seen in a long time. Memphis Country Punk drunks Lucero headlined a three-fisted power punch that also included their labelmates Glossary and Dave Hause of The Loved Ones.
Hause started things off with a confident solo acoustic set. Many in the crowd knew him from his Philly Punk band The Loved Ones and so he got a pretty good response. We have all seen how very often the first act of three will play to a room where the warm bodies to indifference ratio is not in their favor. But last night there was a good early crowd and Hause was greeted warmly. Exuding confidence onstage, Hause bantered with the audience and was goodnatured about screwing up his own lyrics. Pausing just long enough to issue a self-deprecating pun and a chuckle, he rolled his eyes, shook his head and picked up the song from the spot where he’d gone off the rails. The Punk intensity of Hause’s performance style was undiminished by the acoustic setting. Late in his set he did a blazing version of Kathleen Edwards’ song “The Cheapest Key” that was a pleasant surprise.
This writer was the only one in the crowd who responded when Hause asked if anyone had heard of Edwards and I earned myself a dedication thusly. A new song called “Pray For Tucson” was a clear highlight of Hause’s performance. (You can watch a clip of him performing it here) Elsewhere in his set Hause dedicated a song to Jay Reatard and belted out some great lyrics about the hopelessness of dealing with self-destructive friends, some of whom leave this world much too soon.
Next up was Glossary from Murfreesboro, TN. Their set began with a slow burning pulse, but within just a few minutes the sound built to a majestic Pop cacophony of distorted guitars and beautiful vocal harmonies. Dubious about Glossary at first, I was won over by how they maintained cool confidence and a calm demeanor onstage even while creating a glorious whirlwind of sound. Opening with “The Sweet Forever” from the excellent new CD Feral Fire, Glossary guitarist Joey Kneiser calmly intoned “If the road to Hell’s been paved with good intentions then let these be bad”. Kneiser sang lead on the first couple of tunes but multi-instrumentalist Todd Beene took over on vocals midway through the set and this co-frontman tandem worked to create an interesting dynamic in Glossary’s performance. Vocalist Kelly Kneiser lended beautiful soaring harmonies to every song. Polarizing the usual live sound murk into a crystal clear resonance, these sparkling vocal harmonies created an effect that seemed to lift the band off their very feet when they sang together. A folksy Tennessee charm underscores the Glossary sound, giving their almost artsy blend of Americana Punk a sense of earthy backwoods flair and natural warmth. Like a pretty woman with a southern accent, the combination is irresistible.
I think it takes a lot of guts and stamina to rock out and drink hard onstage for two and a half hours until one is on the verge of collapse, but Lucero frontman Ben Nichols makes it look like that’s what God put him on this earth to do. Lucero’s tattooed legions showed their love and loyalty on Friday night by pumping their firsts in the air, singing along to every song, and handing Nichols whiskey shots throughout the band’s set.
I’d be a rich man if I had a dime for every time Nichols and Lucero have been compared to Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. And I don’t disagree there are some similarities there. And much worse bands to be compared to, no doubt. But what I witnessed last night at the Southgate House tells me that Lucero could eat the Replacements for breakfast, wash ‘em down with whiskey, then turn their bloodshot eyes on Social D for brunch.
No pretty boy fashion show, Lucero rocks the bushy beards, faded jeans, pot bellies, ball caps and dirty t-shirts. And they work their asses off onstage. The raspy ringleader Nichols pours every last ounce of his boundless energy into his performance, doggedly determined to sacrifice his voice and liver in the name of almighty Rock n Roll. It may sound like a cliche to some, but this shit is the real deal. This is no flimsy Indie Rock weep and whinefest. Nichols ain’t no Rock n Roll Jesus. He’s just a southern boy with a troubled mind, a big heart, and some burning questions that he is gonna howl at the heavens until the answers come.
Onstage, Nichols is loose and conversational. Throughout Lucero’s lengthy set he takes several opportunities to talk to the crowd, fielding questions and honoring requests. The band stumbles here and there, struggling to remember some of the changes. After a particularly loose number that ended in a glorious shambles, Nichols smirks and says, “Let’s keep doin’ old ones we haven’t played in a long time”. The crowd loves it and they collectively take over whenever Nichols forgets the words. Springsteen could learn a lot from Nichols’s unswerving stamina and a determination to take chances that borders on fiendish. Late in their set, Nichols was having a lot of trouble remembering chord changes and lyrics to many of the songs. But the show didn’t suffer a bit from his admittedly drunken shortcomings. In fact it struck me as quite gutsy and brutally honest for Nichols to put himself so far out there as to reveal his flaws and human frailties.
“I quit smoking two months ago and I’m still hockin’ up shit”, he tells the crowd.”But my parents are so proud of me for quitting I can get away with murder now. ‘You wanna buy a motorcycle and ride it to Mexico? Okay, that’s cool!’” Ever the personable country punk jester, Nichols takes another swig, straight from a bottle that someone snuck onstage, and dedicates the next song to his mom.