Seeing a band live after just listening to their music is similar to watching a movie after reading a book. Inevitably the listener paints an image of the band; this could mean their look, their sound or even their attitude on stage. Lucero and Langhorne Slim teamed up for a show at The Granada in Lawrence, Kansas on April 23rd, 2013 that didn’t quite match what I had imagined in my head.
Langhorne Slim is a great listen on album. The voice of lead singer Langhorne Slim (Sean Scolnick) sings with a gentle rasp that serenades to go along with the roots music he plays. He carried with him a backing band on this tour (The Law) that would add a surprising punch to his music. Slim typically plays a good mixture a few fast acoustic numbers and several slower, more soulful songs. This would lead a listener to believe his set would contain several slower songs.
Langhorne Slim & The Law brought their boxing gloves to the Granada though and knocked the crowd out with a high-energy set that was a perfect opener for a alt-country band like Lucero. The group would hit their latest record, The Way We Move, very hard by playing almost exclusively songs from it. It is refreshing to hear a band with a solid back catalog have the confidence to trot out a ton of new material and play with the attitude that it is their best; for Slim this may well be the case. Right out of the gate Slim was propelling himself upward off the bass drum during “The Way We Move” and upright bass player Jeff Ratner would slap his four strings to match the intensity. Longtime drummer Malachi Delorenzo and his massively dented cymbals would sweat out the intense set and David Moore would frequent the keyboards and occasionally take his turn on the banjo.
The set would take a couple of slower turns that allowed Slim to really display his vocal skills. With his surprisingly soulful voice he would belt out the banjo adorned “Salvation,” admiring tribute to his grandpa “Song For Sid” and the highlight of the slower songs “Tonight Again (Again Tonight.)” Slim would perform “Tonight Again” with the band absent from the stage and he would bring out Lucero’s Rick Steff to join him on accordion to make for a particularly intimate version of the unreleased song. The full band would go off stage with a straight up soul version of their appropriate closing song “Past Lives.” Slim would hop down into the crowd and detour a bit into the audience while belting out the final lyrics to the song and building the audience up to a massive participation in helping sing “I ain’t dead” before giving The Granada stage to the headliner.
Langhorne Slim setlist from The Granada in Lawrence, KS 4/23/13:
- The Way We Move
- Bad Luck
- Honey Pie
- Two Crooked Hearts
- Anything For You
- Song For Sid
- Tonight Again (Again Tonight)
- Found My Heart
- Past Lives
Having never seen Lucero live I was expecting a barnburner. Raunchy guitar boogie and a fast rocking set were a given right? Not so much. While the relaxed band would blast out of the gate with a driving “Sounds of the City” their overall set would not rock as much as I had anticipated. This by no means indicates that it was a bad show because the set I was about to see is almost a given to be included in my top concerts of the year this December.
The group hit their newest album, Women & Work, pretty heavily playing 6 songs from it. They played possibly their most radio friendly song of their career from it right away with “On My Way Downtown.” They would also pepper in the reflective “When I Was Young” and the rowdy title cut “Women & Work” near the top of their lengthy setlist. They would miss many of the songs that are the usual suspects in their sets and replace them with more obscure tracks. Many of these obscure tracks came straight off of the audiences’ lips.
The seven-member band would spread across the stage but never overpower the songs with too much sound. The horn section, a trumpet and saxophone, would make nice additions to many songs but also not force themselves into numbers where they didn’t fit as the players would even occasionally even walk off-stage during songs. The other five members would be on bass, drums, keyboards, and guitar and of coarse Ben Nichols singing and playing guitar. It was shocking how casually confident Nichols was. He is undoubtedly the driving force behind the band, organizing it from his spot in center of the stage clearly making him the star of the show. Lucero for the most part is not a flashy band. The bass player, drummer and guitarist weren’t terribly impressive; they were good at their craft but didn’t do a ton to stand out. Solos were few and far between but not missed in the music at all. The exceptions to the band not being terribly impressive were Ben Nichols’ fantastic vocals and Rick Steff tearing up the keyboards and accordion.
Ben Nichols vocals are striking. Even after listening to him sing on record they will still catch you off-guard. His unique range adorns Lucero’s many songs about heartbreak perfectly. His effortless singing from his tall, lanky frame gives you the impression that his voice would never give out on him. Never. He is one of the most relaxed performers you will ever see on stage. While orchestrating the setlist on the spot he would win over nearly every audience member in attendance. He would spend his time making eye contact with several spectators and even trying to listen to what they had to say and occasionally talking to them. During songs he would shoot a sideways smile the way of people that knew every word or who were pumping their fists in tribute the songs. His white t-shirt and thick facial scruff only accented his tattooed arms and salt and pepper hair, as he would belt out nearly a two hour set while not even leaving the stage.
Nichols would sing several heartfelt songs. “Little Silver Heart” “It Gets Worse At Night” and “Hold Me Close” would all qualify here. Many songs about Nichols family were present too including the shocking twists of “The War” and the playfulness of “Raising Hell.” The band would be releasing a new EP on this occasion named Texas & Tennessee and would play three of the four songs from it. The would also stretch clear back to 2001 to their self-titled out-of-print first album to do three songs including the fitting “All Sewn Up” near the end of the set. “All Sewn Up” is a tribute to bad tattoos and it read true for the group. Each member of the core band was visibly covered in ink, averaging likely at least 30-40 tattoos each leading me to believe a couple members don’t even own any shirts with sleeves.
On a night that would miss the power-rock boogie of “That Much Further West” “Tears Don’t Matter Much” and “The Devil And Maggie Chascarillo” it would be strange how these giant songs would be overshadowed by the tracks performed in their place. It became obvious that Ben Nichols was a much more talented songwriter than he is given credit for and that the band really doesn’t have many songs that aren’t a welcome addition to any concert.
Nichols would conclude the show without and encore because he had lost track of time and played too long; the set would still fall just 10 minutes short of two hours. After the last song he would hop out into the crowd front and center and continue to win over fans. One crowd member would loudly fall on the ground after Nichols started making his way through the eager people and the band’s singer would quickly go back and be the first person to help him up while giving him a pat on the back. Another fan would ask, “If I bought a t-shirt could the whole band sign it?” and Nichols would respond: “I don’t know about the rest of the band but I’ll sure sign it.” Ben Nichols would prove he is not only a legendary talent but one hell of a nice guy as well.
The combination of Lucero and Langhorne Slim made for a fantastic show. The high intensity of Langhorne Slim & The Law and the slightly subdued set by Memphis rockers Lucero may not have been what you I expected after listening to their records but as live bands they will both easily rise beyond your expectations. Records are great but sometimes to paint the full picture you need to go to a show and lose yourself in a great performance. I would pay good money to see Langhorne Slim and/or Lucero again in a heartbeat; if the setlists were exactly the same or if their wasn’t one song repeated from this show.
Lucero setlists from The Granada in Lawrence, KS 4/23/13:
- Sounds of the City
- On My Way Downtown
- Nights Like These
- Kiss The Bottle (Jawbreaker cover)
- Hold Me Close
- Women & Work
- When I Was Young
- Joining The Army
- Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good
- Like Lightning
- Bastard’s Lullaby
- It May Be Too Late
- Rick’s Boogie #2
- Goodbye Again
- Texas & Tennessee
- Other Side Of Lonesome
- Ain’t So Lonely
- Who You Waitin’ On?
- Little Silver Heart
- Raising Hell
- It Gets Worse At Night
- What Would You Have Me Be
- The War
- Take Shelter
- San Francisco
- All Sewn Up
- Fistful of Tears
Pingback: Vocals On Top’s Top 15 Concerts of 2013 | Vocals On Top