On social media sometime last year someone associated with or Lydia Loveless herself mentioned The Girls! which lead me to immediately give them a listen and then promptly order the vinyl. I then completely forgot about ordering it and when the record showed up I had no real expectations. The first spin blew me away with a power pop style I forgot could still be done legitimately today. After that I told folks about this band at every opportunity then last year disaster struck for them and the Columbus music scene as a whole when Joey Blackheart passed away. In reading the piece linked below I’m reminded of how much a single person can do for any city and what that means to people in that scene. So listen to this record, remember Joey and that you can effect a scene based on your actions.
I hit the road again for another fun filled night of great music and fantastic friends this time ending up in Nashville at The High Watt. This wasn’t a normal night at a random show as there were some of my best friends from St Louis and all over TN there for the evening which means i’m sorry for anyone around us be we were singing loudly and enthusiastically.
Starting off the night were the Heathen Sons who’ve been written up here before by our own Wolf and to say they didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. I’d given a few listens to their EP and while I liked it it hadn’t stuck out for me yet. This happens more than I’d like to admit and is one of the many reasons why I try not to miss an opener to any show if possible. You’ll never know the music that grabs you until you hear it live. This band is one of those for me while I enjoyed the record the live performance was just full of very different energy that myself and seemingly the rest of the crowd enjoyed. It’s slightly indie while still definitely southern and past that i’d just call it good. Basically check these guys out if they’re close to your town.
Just over two years ago Lucero played two nights in Nashville and on the first night I elbowed a kid in the head that turned out to be Todd Farrell Jr. which was the beginning of a helluva night. When I sobered up I remembered to check out Todd’s band and was very happy that I did as the then current release of Where Fake Cowboys Go to Drink has some great songs on it. After that background up next was Benchmarks formerly known as Todd Farrell Jr and the Dirty Birds which while not a bad name did not accurately represent what the band is doing today so they changed it. In the best way possible there’s no easy way to categorize this band as they’re at their core a great rock band who also pull in some country and punk sensibility while never committing fully to either of the typical interpretations of those genres. So I’ve seen Todd Farrell and the Dirty Birds before at their last CD release and that gave me high hopes for what i’d see this night. I was not disappointed as the band ripped through the most recent American Nights EP as well as some tracks from the previous two release and requests. By their own admission the band hadn’t played together in some time as Todd had been out on the road with Two Cow Garage and everyone else had other obligations but couldn’t hear that from the audience. The set closed with Pawnshops when even Todd had to acknowledge our awful but very enthusiastic singing. I’m not sure when or where you’ll be able to see this band but if/when Benchmarks or Todd solo comes close to your town it is a show not to miss and in the meantime pickup the EP and the previous releases.
Next up is Two Cow Garage who I first discovered when Please Turn the Gas Back On was reviewed on this very site and from then on has been one of if not my favorite band. I’ve seen them countless times over the years at shows that have evolved from me and the band to 20ish diehard fans to today when they’re able to draw sustainable crowds. It’s always hard to talk about Two Cow and Charles Hale did a better job than I ever could breaking down their style, progression and songwriting here so read that if you want some deeper insight into the band. I will say that I think we’ll need to add a new volume to that talking about what Todd is bringing to the band today. On this night the crowd was mixed with people who were obviously there for the first two bands but still curious about Two Cow and then a section of long term fans myself included who were somewhat vocal. Two Cow ran through highlights from most of their catalog not really leaning to one record or another but including the current single Let the Boys Be the Girls and the upcoming Continental Distance. To the folks that have not see Two Cow recently or at all the band is elevated with the addition of Todd Farrell Jr. who to my seasoned but uneducated ears fills out the songs in general and replaces some of the keyboards from the records. I never write setlists or take notes but on this night I took three notes which consisted of this: the 4 way harmonies are amazing and really add something to multiple songs then the unbelievably quiet crowd during Shoulda California and Swingset Assassin which is worth noting as it demonstrates how much people were enthralled by this performance. I always say that i’ll never see a better Two Cow show than what I see in Little Rock at The White Water Tavern but this show has me starting to think that may not be the case. It’s hard to beat a night with great friends and fantastic music so this was obviously a good one for all involved. It’s hard to come up with a better live band than Two Cow Garage so if you have a chance to see it and miss them i’m sorry for you.
Living in Baltimore there sadly hasn’t been a good venue to see acoustic that was worth bands playing so most of those shows went to DC or skipped our area as a whole. Enter Club 603 which is actually a house venue that’s been putting on shows since at least 2013 and with appearances from bands like Centromatic, John Moreland and Mike Doughty you can tell it’s not your average house show. I discovered the place when Will Johnson was playing there and finally went to my first show there last year to see John Moreland. The furniture is moved out of the living room, a bunch of chairs are moved in and with that the room can hold 50-60 people depending on the band’s setup which makes for a perfect setup for acoustic performances.
John Calvin Abney was the first to play on this night and since I knew absolutely nothing about him I was glad I got there just in time for him to begin. The crowds at these shows are interesting because they’re a mix of people that know about one or more of the artists and are there to see them, or it’s one of a dedicated group that comes to shows here trusting that they always book acts worth hearing. John’s set was full of what I tend to identify as Texas storyteller songs even though he is in fact from Oklahoma but either way one song in I knew I was buying his record as soon as this show was over. I talked to John after the show only to find out that he’d not only played on John Moreland and Samantha Crain’s records but that i’d seen him play with Crain in DC previously. His solo record Better Luck, which Moreland plays on, is just as great as his set was so give it a listen.
Up next was Porter who I hadn’t seen since his days as Some Dark Holler but I’ve enjoyed his new solo record, that Will Johnson produced, This Red Mountain since its release earlier this year. His set included songs from that record and new songs as well as some from previous projects like The Back Row Baptists which all flowed great together and were very well received by the crowd that was largely new to him. He then brought up John for a few songs and we were treated to some of their tour stories from his Natural Disaster run including a sleeping pill and ibuprofen mishap that resulted in a perilous drive to the next stop. The songs they played together were fantastic and left me wanted to see them together again.
Closing out the night was North Carolina’s Caleb Caudle who had previously played this venue in January so most of the audience was at least familiar with him. He started off with some songs from last years record Paint Another Layer on My Heart which it was obvious the crowd new well and loved. We were then treated to a mix of new songs off his forthcoming record as well as more songs from the previous two records. This room is dead quiet and with hardwood floors a voice like Caleb’s just fills up the place beautifully. It’s a rare treat to be able to sit/stand and listen to songs like these without the artist fighting to overcome some sort of crowd noise. I’m looking forward to all of these guys next stop through Club 603.
I hate talking or writing about myself so i’ll keep this brief. Growing up I was always crazy about music so in grade school you’d find me in the library checking out all the rock history books then pouring over them to figure out the influences and origins of whatever I was listening to at the time. This obsession never lightened up but found a new outlet in high school when a friend handed me an Avail 7in and pointed me to the local all ages venues. Louisville, KY had a great local scene at the time which meant I went to multiple shows a week, saw tons of awesome bands and eventually worked for one of the venues. The benefit of being a punk kid in Kentucky is that even those punk bands still appreciated or at least acknowledged the country and bluegrass most of them heard growing up so our tastes stayed pretty diverse. Music is the thread that connects all the important events in my life from meeting my wife through friends from shows to my first big career progression coming from a friend I traded music with online.
Luckily a friend handed me a copy of Lucero’s self titled record when it was released which turned me into a huge fan of theirs, introduced me to a new music family and lead me down the Americana path eventually to this site. I’ve found some great bands from this site over the years, including some favorites like John Moreland and Two Cow Garage so it’s exciting to be writing here now. Aside from seeing shows in my home of DC/Baltimore I tend to travel wherever the shows are so I’m going to be concentrating on writing up those shows and the experiences that come with them as well as whatever music catches my attention. I hope you all enjoy reading it and I’m sorry if I’ve blocked your view at a show but I needed to get those drinks to the band.
For those unfamiliar with this tour for the past 3-4 years when Lucero has a tour break Ben Nichols straps his acoustic to the back of his bike and hits the road for a string of dates with tattoo artist Oliver Peck and a rotating group of other folks. These are solo shows staged in smaller rooms with local openers and therefore tend to be more intimate than the normal Lucero performance. I’m a diehard long-term Lucero fan and have been to previous incarnations of this tour so this year I made my way to the dates in Columbus and Pittsburgh and thought it’d be worth writing up.
I hadn’t been to Columbus since high school so I had no idea what this venue or crowd would be like and to say they were great would be an understatement. The show was at the Rumba Cafe which was sold out well ahead of time much to the dislike of the people I saw trying to buy tickets at the door. Lydia Loveless opened the show with an around 40 minute solo acoustic set that consisted of songs from her albums and Boy Crazy EP as well as what I think was a new song. She’s always great live but it was interesting to hear completely stripped down versions of these songs. The surprising part for me was that a lot of the crowd didn’t seem to be familiar with her at all and I would have assumed there’d be a large crossover with their fan bases. Ben was introduced by Oliver and took the stage at 8pm which seemed unnaturally early but the crowd was already sufficiently lubricated so away we went. I’d be comfortable saying that this was the best solo show of his I have ever seen because not only did he sound great and seem to be having a great time but the crowd was very into the whole set, singing along and still respectful. I don’t keep set lists as i’m too busy enjoying the show to write anything down but aside from the usual Lucero live favorites we were treated to some rarities like the Red Forty song Outsiders, Mine Tonight and songs from Nichols solo concept record The Last Pale Light in the West. Lucero has a new record coming out in September so we were treated to two songs from that record the first of which being Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles that despite only being released the week before the crowd already knew the words to and Young Outlaws which is full of references to Ohio. The show was over by 10pm which allowed for more drinks and eventual street tacos so yeah it was a good night.
We moved on to Pittsburgh which was a city i’d never even been to previously. The venue called Club Cafe was even smaller than the night before and nice enough that I wondered if they knew what they were in for from the crowd. It turned out to be another fun but very respectful group and the only issue was that they ran out of Jameson before the night was over. The opening act was Paul Luc who arrived on his bike as well. He played a great acoustic set which given what i’ve seen online now seems to be unusual for him. Ben was up next and proceeded to run through a similar but still very different set from the night before which included the more “standard” live Lucero tracks and then also rarities like Hearts on Fire and closing with Joey Kneiser’s song Bruised Ribs. We were then treated to an encore or crowd cajoled last song of I Can’t Stand to Leave You which I don’t remember hearing live before often if at all.
In the end these are just fun fan friendly concerts with a chance to see and hear a performer in a way you’re not used to experiencing. The old Lucero website and message board were named LuceroFamily and that still holds true today. You meet good people, bond over the same music and have a great time. What else could you ask for?
Thanks to Jeff Scroggs for this video from Columbus