If I hear one more person say, "It's as hot as balls out," I'm going to punch them in that very area. But I'll make an exception for Ben Nichols, singer/guitarist of Lucero, who made the utterance onstage during his band's two-hour show July 10 at Beauty Bar. Because I couldn't possibly understand how tough it is to play under what looked like heatlamps when it's already 100 degrees outside ... at 10:30 p.m.
But Nichols is a trooper, and so were his seven bandmates. (A fan next to me: "Every time I see Lucero, they're bigger.") They played for two hours -- just under 25 songs, with a fair amount of banter and one girl-fight interruption (he missed the one happening near the soundboard five minutes later). In fact, I was told the show would be long -- which was apparently why each ticket was $26 -- and it made me wonder if the notoriously hard-drinkin' band could go the distance in temperatures in which it was likely not accustomed to playing. Funny that while Lucero went to extremes with their performance -- to say nothing of the weather -- the one thing they seemed to moderate was alcohol, or so I could tell.
The band's first test was three songs in, before its cover of Jawbreaker's "Kiss the Bottle." Someone presented the entire band with shots, and Nichols raised his cup and said, "You've seen the good part of the show. Now you're going to see the whiskey part of the show!" But in reality, Lucero sounded in top form from here on out. "Juniper," a song from this year's Women & Work, featured a trumpet and saxaphone accompaniment that recalled Memphis soul, complemented by Todd Beene on pedal steel. Nichols played up the rock 'n' roll barfly act with the next song, "Sixes and Sevens," by singing: "Drinking women, chasing whiskey/like there's nothing left to lose/now if she'd only kiss me/I'd be a little less confused." Slower, newers songs like "It May Be Too Late" figured prominently into the set, and while they weren't as well-received as the twang rockers for which Lucero is beloved, they allowed the band to flex different muscles and show a bit of versatility. Plus, to politely paraphrase what someone nearby said, the dudes have matured from their more raucous days.
And just as a suite of newer ended, the band went into older chestnuts, like the one-two-three-four punch of "Chain Link Fence," "Sixteen," "Sweet Little Thing" and "Slow Dancing." Shortly after that, Nichols seemed a little concerned with his alcohol intake. He not only chugged SmartWater, but admitted to spitting the contents of a shot given to him by a fan back into its cup, then tried to save face by noting the rarity of such an occurrence. Guy by me was right -- dudes are totally getting older. And smarter, given that I can still feel every beer I drank 14 hours later.
Anyway, Lucero scaled it down for "Better Than This" and "The War" before going full strength into a climaxing "All Swen Up." A few numbers later, which included a encore of Women & Work closer "Go Easy," another memorable post-weekend Beauty Bar show was over, all of us having rocked out appropriately while successfully thwarting heatstroke.