Lucero and Ryan Bingham – Austin Music Hall, Austin, TX (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Lucero and Ryan Bingham hail from totally different parts of the country, yet somehow booking them on a co-headlining tour makes complete sense. Both Ryan Bingham and Lucero’s lead singer Ben Nichols possess two of the roughest voices in rock and roll. Their gravelly voices are unmistakable and fit perfectly when singing songs of heartbreak, drinking, and life on the road, all of which are frequent topics in for both acts. Lucero and Ryan Bingham have also developed fiercely devoted fans who – as is evidenced by this tour – often overlap. All of these factors made their sold out show at the Austin Music Hall on Thursday that much more exciting, at least for those who actually gave a shit.

It may have been because their sound was not nearly as high as Ryan Bingham’s would be, but even the louder moments of Lucero’s set nearly missed the mark due to North Face and cowboy boot wearing frat boys and loud caddy blondes incapable of holding their booze. Lucky for those that actually came out to see live music, the members of Lucero are seasoned road warriors and even a crowd of 3,000 drunks more interested in talking and playing with their cell phones than watching a band can’t make them flinch. Ten years ago it was common to see multiple bottles of Jack Daniels onstage with the band, who often got just as rowdy and shit-canned as their fans. The only difference these days is that they now have roadies to bring them whiskey in fancy Solo cups and have tightened up, professionally. Lucero’s loose, freewheeling spirit is still in tact and if you’ve followed the band for years you’ve seen them emerge as well-oiled crusaders of a distinctly Memphis sound. The band touched on all parts of their catalogue, enhancing the Southern roots rock of fan favorites like “On My Way Downtown”, “Tears Don’t Matter Much,” and “Nights Like These” with brassy soul and rollicking saloon style piano. The set took a slower turn when Nichols took the stage backed only by Rick Steff on accordion for a handful of songs he dubbed “full depression”, including a hard hitting version of “The War”. Unfortunately, for Nichols and the audience members (not many) who were respectful enough to watch the performance, this quiet part of the set was overwhelmed by a barrage of chatter. Never ones to end on a low note, Lucero had the drunks in the palm of their hand when they closed big with “Nobody’s Darling”.

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Ryan Bingham has inherited the throne of Robert Earl Keen in many ways. His songs come from the heart and hone in on rough and rugged life in small towns. It is music people in Texas can relate to, or at least pretend to based on their own mythic ideas of a rural rambling life spent working ranches and drinking in roadhouses. Despite the legions of frat boys who fill his shows, Bingham, just like Robert Earl Keen, is a sensible narrator of that life. He’s able to transcend the big trucks, cheap beer and overall douchebaggery inhabiting country music now.

On Thursday Bingham’s band was loud and on point, firing like a pistol out the gate with “Dollar A Day.” On songs like “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So” and “Radio” Bingham commanded the crowd, barreling along so fast that even the talkers had to pay attention. The folks in Texas always appreciate a good fiddler, and having Austin’s own Richard Bowden playing with breakneck speed turned each song into firecracker. Just like Robert Earl Keen, Bingham writes songs that people can not only connect with, but also sing along to every lyric like an anthem for country life. Even a song like “Hard Times” – something the upper middle class crowd at this show probably know nothing about – invited a massive sing-a-long. It also contained one hell of a slide guitar solo. “Sunrise” – which may just be his “Road Goes On Forever” – may have gotten the biggest reaction from the men and the women, all of whom were smitten over its clever lyrics and catchy chorus. And rightfully so – it’s a damn fine song.

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In Austin Bingham held court over an audience that would infuriate most artists, and he embraced every moment. He doesn’t live in Texas anymore, but like so many great singer-songwriters who grew up in the Lone Star State – Ryan Bingham writes songs that are just as good for dancing along to in a bar as they are for really listening and hanging on every lyric. Sure, the bro country superstars can fill arenas with their trite twang-pop, but there’s something comforting in seeing acts like Ryan Bingham and Lucero attract large audiences, even if they do happen to be obnoxious drunks.

All photos by John Croxton. 

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