Lucero’s closing set of SXSW at Cedar Street Courtyard was the kind of party you’d expect from the Memphis punk-turned-country rockers: a rowdy, rock n’ roll free-for-all for punks, rockabillies and out-of-towners alike.
After playing host to a stellar showcase lineup (the Lucero Family Picnic Showcase featuring J. Roddy Walston and Chuck Ragan in earlier sets), Lucero opened the final set of the evening with its signature gritty southern sound followed by a new tune, “On My Way Downtown,” an early stand out from their latest album.
And even though it was well past midnight on the final night of SXSW, the crowd and the band didn’t let lingering hangovers eclipse a powerful performance. “I feel like complete shit because I’ve been drinking,” Lucero front man, Ben Nichols, said to the crowd. “The last twelve years have been rough,” he joked. “The last three days, especially.”
But that’s the recipe for a successful Lucero show. “Feeling like shit” is a dead on descriptor for the gravelly sound and beer-soaked antics that make their performances so real. Lucero’s set was a high-low journey through the band’s catalogue, with a pace dictated by the shots taken on stage and the beers in hand. It married feel-good rock n’ roll with solid country licks and a hint of the blues.
Integrating new songs from Women and Work, which dropped Tuesday, March 13, Lucero's set spotlighted a change in the band's sound: a direction that relies less on its punk roots and instead draws more influence from Memphis tradition.
Heavy on the rock n’ roll keys (think Leon Russell-style session playing) and horns, “On My Way Downtown” had Saturday night’s crowd — stage level and those looking on from the balcony — up and moving.
There were also bluesy numbers borrowing from seedy Bourbon Street bars, and honky-tonk tunes that fit the bill for dark dives where cigarettes and cans of Shiner Bock are the name of the game.
Of course, there were also the whiskey-coated ballads that Nichols is known for. Saturday night’s rendition of “Hey Darlin', Do You Gamble” perfectly captured the longing loneliness that has fueled Lucero’s sound for over a decade.
Overall, the night was a well-balanced sampling of Lucero’s history, one that is heavy on punk and now tattoed with regional influences that have often been forgotten in modern music. For their final bow on this stint in Austin, Lucero nailed it with the Lucero Family Picnic Showcase, giving SXSW one final, slightly dysfunctional, look at southern, punk-influenced rock.
Lucero is on tour now in support of Women and Work. The 2012 Lucero Family Picnic takes place on May 19 in Batesville, Arkansas.