Not too long ago, Lucero founder and frontman Ben Nichols took a few minutes to assess the long road his band has traveled since its inception in 1998—Lucero's brutal, drunken, no-holds-barred amalgam of punk and country and soul, he said, evolved considerably as the waves of time and fortune washed over them.
"The Memphis sound and the Memphis roots, we've definitely tapped into those sources a little more than we did in the past," he told Brooklyn Vegan. "We're kind of more comfortable with being a Memphis band. I think we're more comfortable showing where we're from a little bit and letting those roots show. Now we're this rock 'n' roll soul band."
At 40, Nichols said, he's come to embrace the Southern roots that have run through his band's music—and through his own personal history. Nichols grew up in Arkansas.
"When you're 12 years old you're discovering all this music from other places. It's amazing. You're 12, so you want to be from anywhere except from where you're from. As you grow older you begin to appreciate. Johnny Cash is an easy one. Plenty of punk rockers love Johnny Cash. Hank Williams Sr."
Lucero returns to Savannah Monday, Jan. 27—with opener Jonny Fritz—to play the Jinx.
After 14 years, of course, a lot of bands are cold-cocking country with punk. "Since we started, there were kind of too many rules at the punk rock shows," Nichols said. "If it didn't sound like this then it wasn't cool. If you weren't dressed like this it wasn't cool.
"There were getting to be too many rules in punk rock, and then after we were around for a number of years, it started to feel like there were too many rules for an alt-country band or whatever the hell we were—a roots rock Americana band. There were a lot of rules involved in that all of a sudden, too. One of them being: you don't have a horn section. If there ever get to be too many rules in a genre, it's been really nice and refreshing to go a completely different direction."
Cody Dickinson, of North Mississippi All-Stars, produced Texas & Tennessee, the band's 2013 EP and most recent release. Dickinson hadn't been at the board since the band's self-titled first album, back in '98.
"With 1372 Overton Park and with Women & Work, we kind of really explored the Memphis side of things and really made it as big as we possibly could," Nichols reflected. "We had, I guess, an eight piece band on both of those records.
"With Texas & Tennessee, we just kind of wanted to dial it back a notch and have maybe a little more down home feeling. I just played acoustic guitar on it, which I've never really played a whole lot of acoustic, so we used a pretty big element of that. Just starting from that acoustic place, that kind of automatically gave it a more down home feeling."
"We wanted something a little simpler, and I guess some people would call it more old school Lucero-sounding."
Hardcore fans needn't worry. The band's taut, Replacements-like anti-pop is still healthy and dressed in full fuck-you regalia.
"When we began," said drummer Roy Berry, "we were known for how restrained we played. Our sound got bigger over the years, but the larger ensemble is making the core band sparse like we used to be—the songs just have more layers."
It's "Prelude Week" for the 2014 Savannah V.O.I.C.E. Festival. A Saturday (Jan. 25) concert at Christ Church will feature opera singers Santiago Ballerini, Jessica Best, Dan Kempson, Paulo Lapa, Meechot Marrero, Matthew Morris, Cooper Nolan, Peter Rivera, Scott Russell and Amy Shoremount-Obra. Afterwards, the festival schedule will be announced. It all leads up to the Jan. 31 Lucas Theatre performance of Scenes de La Vie de Boheme, featuring the combined talents of VOICExperience vocalists and Peter Shannon's Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra. See savannahvoicefestival.org.
Hey hey Stopover!
Peelander-Z, a costume-wearing, New York-based Japanese "action comic punk" band, is among the "buzz bands" announced last week for the 2014 Savannah Stopover (March 6-8). The band, to play Club One on March 8, is currently looking for a drummer—the potential rhythmatist would have to wear the "Peelander Green" costume. Cartoonish, garish, loud and fun, they're plugged-in Power Rangers.
Capsula, Wye Oak, Future Islands, J Roddy Walston & The Business, Oberhofer and Wild Child were also just announced—the proverbial cherry on top of an already great-looking Stopover lineup (more than 100 performances over those three days).
Other international bands confirmed for Stopover are Public Service Broadcasting and Esben & The Witch (UK), Canada's July Talk, Sean Nicholas Savage, The Belle Game and Sierra, plus Sweden's Mary Onettes and Norway's Jagged Vision.
The '14 marquee includes Dega, a new project featuring Kalen Nash of Stopover favorite Ponderosa, and Curtin, a new one with Country Mice frontman Jason Rueger—another longtime Stopover band. All ticket information is available at savannahstopover.com.
• The party continues with the ever-inspiring R&B horn band Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love, playing one of their infrequent shows Saturday, Jan. 25 at Knights of Columbus, 3 W. Liberty, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at Portman's Music, or at the door.
• Chris Cook, whose extravagant, bizarro theme parties have been sorely missed since he went on hiatus in 2010, has returned. As has the madness. Chris' first event will be Jan. 31 at Gatsby's, 408 West Broughton St. Analog Kid will provide the tunes for Pin Ups Glamour & Glitz Carousal, with burlesque by the Downtown Delilahs, Edie Bellini & Magnolia Minxxx, plus casino tables, costume contest (prizes for Best Pin Up, Best Mobster and Best Couple) and more. Admission to the 9pm glitterbash will be $6. Watch this space for more on the ongoing Cook-a-Thon.
• A second Art Garfunkel show has been added for Feb. 15 at Dollhouse Productions. Tickets for Artie's "Intimate Evening" are $65 through brownpapertickets.com.