On Friday, November 9, Memphis rockers Lucero played The Warfield in San Francisco, a beautiful old theater with a capacity of 2,300. That’s why it seemed like an odd booking decision when they hit Portland, Oregon the very next night – Saturday, November 10 – for a show at the divey rock club Dante’s. Those who scored tickets to the sold out show were excited to catch the band’s gritty and downhome yet huge rock sound, and also to hear a taste of their newest album Among the Ghosts performed live.
Getting the crowd livened up was Jonny Fritz, formally known as Jonny Corndog. Fritz was a last minute swap of Strand of Oaks, who had to cancel, so naturally the crowd was a bit skeptical. Luckily, Fritz was able to charm the pants off of nearly everyone with his own style of “Dad Country”. With just his voice and a guitar – and some badass boots – the singer had the crowd in stiches with songs like “Are You Thirsty” about the lameness of quitting drinking, the dirty “Holy Water”, and a “hymnal” about Fords and Chevys. He even set down his guitar for an a capella ode to loserdom called “Stone Cold Daddy-O”, and by the end of his set nearly everyone reveled in his humorous and folkie approach to country music.
Early in the set, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols joked that the band had many blurry memories at Dante’s. With a smile on his face, his tone carried a touch of nostalgia and surprise at playing this venue after having moved up to larger, classier joints years ago. Nichols and his band mates seemed mostly excited to be playing their new songs live, with the title track of Among the Ghosts coming early in the set and standing out with its dramatic synth, and “Bottom of the Sea”, which felt like a cross between The National and the catchier work of Mike Ness with a synth line reminiscent of The Cure. In other words, an interesting new sound for a bunch of rockers from Memphis. Many of the songs off Among the Ghosts deal with fatherhood, marriage, and getting older, and Nichols exuded a noticeable closeness to the songs, like with the feel-good “To My Dearest Wife” and “Everything Has Changed”, the latter a standout of the album that found Nichols’ projecting his signature rough vocals over a Fleetwood Mac-style soundtrack. He would even play a loose and bouncy little ditty about his daughter Izzy.
Even though a lot has changed in twenty years, the band was more than happy to give the fans a heaping helping of older favorites. Slower songs like “Slow Dancing”, “Texas & Tennessee” and the Springsteen-esque “Union Pacific Line” were contrasted with rowdier, more sing-a-long party tunes like “On My Way Downtown”, “Sweet Little Thing” and the exuberant punk energy of “Tears Don’t Matter Much”. By the time the band charged to the finish line of their set, the crowd was chanting along to the ode to good times, “Nights Like These”.
With the whiskey flowing and band having a blast telling stories in between songs, Lucero’s set in Portland felt like a throwback to their early days blowing the roof off of dive bars. The band members displayed the kind of tight camaraderie onstage that can only come from twenty years on the road, and the fans enjoyed every second of it. They also showed that the songs off Among the Ghosts stand up to the rest of their catalog, which has earned them a place in history as one of the more revered Southern rock and roll bands.