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Live Review: Lucero at Baltimore Soundstage

November 8, 2013

img_2228_r_20120130_172757“You were 16 when you fell in love,” Ben Nichols sang at the Baltimore Soundstage Thursday night. “No one told you it won’t be enough.” Nichols, Lucero’s 39-year-old lead singer and chief songwriter, was there to tell you. Wearing a shapeless white T-shirt, a faded green baseball cap, a jaw covered in stubble and two arms full of old tattoos, he resembled the characters in his songs: too soon old and too late wise.

Nichols also resembled the audience that almost filled the big black box of the venue: mostly working-class guys coming up on 40 or seeing it in the rear-view mirror. Nichols was their apt surrogate, his raspy, world-weary verses full of disappointments balanced by his big chorus melodies full of stubborn hopes. These gear shifts wouldn’t have been as effective as they are if his six bandmates weren’t such a terrific rock ‘n’ roll band.

“The last time we drank,” he admitted on the chorus to “On My Way Downtown,” “I was less than well behaved.” But when trumpeter Scott Thompson and saxophonist Jim Spake added a punchy horn riff to Rick Steff’s piano fills, the chorus jumped to life and Nichols contradicted himself, declaring, “Come on down for just one drink. When you’re around, I’m more the man that I should be.”

On “Texas & Tennessee,” the title track of the band’s new, impressive, four-song EP, Nichols compared the demise of a love affair to the plane crash that killed Otis Redding in 1967. That connection was cemented by the soulful horn section and no-fuss rhythm section, a reminder that Lucero too comes from Memphis where Redding recorded for Stax.