Lucero/Ha Ha Tonka; July 30, 2010; High Noon Saloon
The first time I saw Lucero was at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Matt Pond PA had just played a quietly gorgeous set. At first Lucero’s amped up Southern rock was a nice contrast, but eventually it all started to sound the same and their increasingly drunk frat boy fans drove me out before the encore. The second time was at Twangfest a few years back. They had just come from the Wakarusa festival, which is dry, and boy, were they thirsty. They were so drunk by the time they played that they didn’t successfully complete a song all night. Surprisingly that was less annoying than it sounds, and I actually preferred that show to my first experience.
Third time’s a charm? Not quite. Much like the Murder by Death show, the High Noon was packed with people I didn’t recognize. Yes, many of them were certainly drunk, but none as bad as the fans or the band respectively of my first two Lucero encounters. None of the band actually looked familiar except for jovial lead singer Ben Nichols. For one thing I certainly didn’t remember there being that many of them on stage last time. In addition to Nichols, the rhythm section and a lead guitar player, there were two horns, a keyboard player and a pedal steel player. Eight band members nearly justify the large tour bus parked out front. With all those musicians you would think that their songs would have some variety, but as their set moved into the second hour I had identified only four, there was the slow jam, the song with horns, and the one that sounds like it was written by the Drive By Truckers’ Mike Cooley. Uh, make that three different songs. Admittedly, I don’t know their material at all, which undoubtedly accounts for my inability to differentiate between songs. As the crowd continued to roar their approval, sing along and beg for more, I couldn’t help but wonder why Two Cow Garage doesn’t enjoy this sort of popularity. After all, they do the same sort of thing, they do it better, and they have more than three songs.
One thing I will say about Nichols, he was charming, genuine, and sincere, on stage and off. When fan after fan came up to him after the show wanting a photo and to tell him how much his music means to them, he couldn’t have been happier to talk and then grin adorably for the camera. All the while I’m pretty sure what he really wanted was a drink. During their set he thanked Ha Ha Tonka so many times I actually lost count. Which makes him much nicer than me, I just harassed them for not playing “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart” AGAIN and told them it was a good thing for them that it was too late for me to not come to the show. It was an even shorter set than Monday’s already too short show, with Brett’s new song also being eliminated. Still I do love those boys, and I’ll seldom miss an opportunity to see them. The good thing about tonight was that it convinced me not to drive to DeKalb on Monday to see the same show again. The bad part about tonight was that I found out later that my previous ping pong drubbing at Brian’s hands wasn’t because I was drunk last time. He’s just that good. Another myth busted.
Actually, now that I think about it I am pretty sure that I saw Lucero between rain showers at the Beale Street Music Fest in Memphis years ago.
Ha Ha Tonka
Alex with Ben Nichols