All words: Jeb Gavin
What constitutes your average Wednesday night concert isn’t really all that amazing. In general, weekday shows are low key affairs, no matter the artist. Most everyone has to be in bad at some reasonable hour, so no one’s looking for a blowout. Of course, if you can have it both ways, the wild party and the laid back shindig, well that’s the whole ball of wax.
Such a thing happened last Wednesday at the 9:30 Club with Lucero, and their opener J. Roddy Walston and the Business. Perhaps opener isn’t the right word, though. As Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers once pointed out, “some nights you headline, and some nights you just play second.” Baltimore locals, transplanted from Cleveland, J. Roddy and all the business is something to see live. The only band I’ve ever seen blow the Hold Steady off the stage, J. Roddy sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin on their first tour of America in 1968, but in some alternate reality in which a long haired Jerry Lee Lewis stepped in for Robert Plant. J. Roddy, nearly always seated behind a piano, stomped along with the rest of the Business through a quick but intense set, encouraging and even instructing the audience to sing along with nearly every song. Most of the audience didn’t seem prepared for the lightning-and-thunder; the rollicking Americana flavored rock and roll pouring through the speakers. As my friend Hamster (just a nickname) noted, “These guys are the real deal.”
Of course, once everyone’s retinas and eardrums were sufficiently seared, Lucero was happy to take the stage, share a cigarette and a glass of whiskey, and commiserate with a grateful audience. In fact, if you were to poll 100 Lucero fans, about 99 of them will tell you to shut up while the band is playing. The last will begrudgingly explain Lucero’s live show feels just like that cigarette and whiskey: equal parts smooth and rough; comfort and communal frustration; soul and viscera.
Front man Ben Nichols writes songs like a veteran of the hardcore scene, but filtered through the blues and country in the band’s native Tennessee. Their mutton chopped keyboardist plays just about every permutation of honky-tonk pianee (NOT piano) you can think of, and occasionally picks up an accordion should occasion arise. Pedal steel jams right along with the horn section in the back, walking that fine line between Southern soul and Hee-Haw commercial break outros. And as if the brew wasn’t heady enough, guitarist Brian Venable (a sartorial role model for all nerdy heavy metal rednecks) gives the whole thing a hot shot of distorted, grungy rock. Because somehow a quick two hour set which simultaneously evokes the reckless, stripped down madness of punk and the meticulously timing and careful construction of a old fashioned, Porter Wagoner-style country and Western review show needs a little something more.
Between the modern-day classic rock of the Business, and whatever music Lucero deigned to play when Ben Nichols wasn’t trading drinks with the audience, the crowd at the 9:30 Club saw two of the best bands playing in America today. Not too shabby for a Wednesday night.