My crossings with Lydia have been short. I once got a ticket to see Coheed and Cambria years ago before remembering Lydia and gang were in town on the same night (I took some stick for that one) and last years Holiday Hangout. But she’s always been on my stereo with her scratchy bar-country stylings. “Somewhere Else” showed a sound evolving into a tighter, cleaner sound. “Real” is the next step forward. The first almost totally hidden synthy notes in “Same To You” and jumpy bassline in “Heaven” were a surprise but begin to make sense. This is a pop album with all the lyric honesty and humour we’ve come to expect.
Gone is the whiskey soaked sounds of before. This is slicker and more dynamic than ever before. “Out Of Love” is little more than a guitar, double bass with accents and vocal harmonies. The only hints of her past sounds come towards the end on “European”, “Clumps” and the titular track. Lydia’s voice has never sounded so harnessed and pushed to the ragged edge of emotion before. The glue in the joints of this album is Benjamins bass playing. Strong and driving, lifting proceedings. The whole band feel more comfortable with the sounds being made than ever. I wrote this review in the evening sunlight with the windows open and is a perfect summer album. If the first two Lydia Loveless albums were for dive bars with dry rot, “Real” is beachside or Miami hotel rooftop bars. If said bars went for emotionally strong music over piano covers. I actually feel guilty for not writing this wearing a sports coat with sleeves pushed up over the elbow. There are moments where this album transcends artists and sounded like updated Kirsty MacColl.
If you aren’t listening to this album, mores the shame. “Real” is a perfect mix of jangly pop and cutting lyrics. Between this album and the forthcoming Gorman Bechard documentary “Who Is Lydia Loveless?“, 2016 is the year of Lydia Loveless.
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