News fucking flash: Lucero released a live record. It’s long, represents their entire catalog and is Essential Listening. But all of those things you knew before you started reading. Also, I’m not going to spend a single word trying to describe what Lucero sounds like, they sound like Lucero-always has and always will. None of that is what is important about Live From Atlanta. What is important is how these eight sides of vinyl represents a monumental accomplishment.
It’s impossible to listen to and think about Live From Atlanta without considering where Lucero has come from. When I first saw the band it was 2002 in a tiny Georgia club and I left early because the band was too drunk to finish their songs. Tennessee was out at the time and That Much Further West was on the way. At the time what they were able to harness in the studio they were not able to harness on stage. But the beauty was there, the songs were there. I only bring up that early show to demonstrate how far the band has come with Live From Atlanta. On the album the songs are tight when they need to be and free when they want them to be. The band is assured and confident, not only as players but as men and artists. You can feel their interaction and compassion for each other.
Through eight sides they do what they have always done-make people incredibly happy by playing sad songs. Stop and think about how powerful that is for a moment.
There can be many definitions of art, all with some level of validity, but finding joy in collective sorrow is no doubt an aspect of art. Lucero combines a classically trained bassist, a singer with a rough-hewn voice, a self-taught guitar player and a computer geek drummer to create what can only be called a goddamn rock’n’roll band. Ben’s willingness to plunge into himself has allowed all of us to feel better about our lives.
Somewhere toward the end of the record he mentions that whenever he has a weekend off he would sit in his living room with a glass of whiskey and listen to sad songs or Rick Steff. In his voice you can hear how much he enjoys those nights, yet there he is, like most weekend nights, on stage and singing for the rest of us. I think the whole band knows how much their art means to us but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop showing them.
You can’t have an honest conversation of the history of Lucero without mentioning the addition of keyboards and horns. These additions mean less of Brian’s gritty guitar, and I love Brian’s guitar, but I want to talk about what these additions bring. I think it’s also worth noting that all bands with a long career change, Wilco went more experimental, Dylan went electric, Tom Petty went…well Tom Petty’s got that three-chord thing. Change is inevitable and so let’s take a moment to look at what the additions bring to the songs.
In the early days of Lucero everything was rough, the voice, the guitars, the attitude but somewhere deep within the songs was beauty. Beauty in the chord changes and the melody but that beauty was hidden more than it should have been. Rick Steff’s playing brings that beauty out a little more and for that I am grateful. Listen to “My Best Girl,” where the piano comes in half-way into the song and dances around the guitar parts. It doesn’t overwhelm the song but adds to it. Also listen to “It Gets Worst At Night” and hear how the horns and piano subtly accentuate the melody in a way that a guitar couldn’t. It’s beauty.
Of course, there are songs where the horns and piano take center stage. Whether I’m as big a fan of those songs as others really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the band clearly enjoys these additions. The way I see things is if the band isn’t enjoying itself then they might stop playing. I, for one, would prefer if Lucero would keep playing shows and making records and if horns and piano come with it then so be it. So either get over your distaste for these instruments or stop listening to new Lucero records.
Earlier in the review I called Live From Atlanta Essential Listening, honestly the album is Definitive Listening. It represents not only a weekend in the band’s existence but also shows where they’ve been. What a little bar band from Memphis has been able to create is amazing, the positive impact they’ve had on their fan’s lives is immeasurable. Raise a glass to them, they’ve earned it.