DOU­BLE DUTY

Lucero shows two sides to their sound at an­nual Christ­mas con­cert

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MUSIC - By Bob Mehr

It’s been a busy fall for Ben Nichols, pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally. The singer-song­writer for Mem­phis roots rock­ers Lucero saw the band’s 11th al­bum, “All That a Man Should Do,” re­leased in Septem­ber. Per­haps not sur­pris­ingly, given the ro­man­tic tenor of the record — which in­cludes a cover of Big Star’s “I’m in Love with a Girl” — Nichols re­cently an­nounced his en­gage­ment on In­sta­gram as well. In be­tween, Nichols and the band have been on the road sup­port­ing the new al­bum. They’ll bring their tour and year to a close with a per­for­mance in Mem­phis at Min­gle­wood Hall on Satur­day, with the group’s an­nual Lucero Fam­ily Christ­mas con­cert.

Through­out the fall tour, the band has been do­ing ‘An Evening With” shows, sans an open­ing act, and they’ll do the same on Satur­day. “We’ve kind of been open­ing for our­selves,” says Nichols. “We start, play for about an hour with a smaller drum kit, acous­tic gui­tars and up­right bass, and it’s a qui­eter softer set that fo­cuses on new songs and then back to really old stuff, very early re­leases like (2000’s self-re­leased de­but) ‘The At­tic Tapes’ — things we haven’t played in years and years or maybe ever live. Then we do a set break and then do more of a stan­dard Lucero rock and roll set.

“It’s a lot of Lucero all in one night,” says Nichols, laugh­ing, “but we’ve been hav­ing a really good time do­ing it. And the crowds have been treat­ing us really well, stick­ing around for the whole thing and really treat­ing us well.”

Ac­cord­ing to Nichols, Lucero’s lat­est tour has seen their au­di­ence grow­ing, both in terms of size, and grow­ing up in their ages. “The crowd is prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit older now. I mean, we are as well — we’ve been do­ing this for 15 years,” he says. “But the fan base is grow­ing for sure. That’s one thing I’ve no­ticed on this tour — it’s been a really good (at­ten­dance). And since it’s just us on the bill, the folks are only com­ing out for one rea­son. That’s a good sign too — to be able to grow on your own.”

The de­ci­sion to open their shows in a more acous­tic man­ner is largely a nod to shift­ing sonic dy­nam­ics at the core of “All That a Man Should Do,” whose songs were mostly writ­ten and recorded with Nichols play­ing acous­tic gui­tar. “Which is dif­fer­ent from the re­cent records,” he says. “Mainly, the last two records, (2009’s) ‘1372 Over­ton Park’ and (2012’s) ‘Women and Work’ had been fol­low­ing a very Mem­phis rock and roll vibe and we were go­ing that di­rec­tion — es­pe­cially once we added the horn sec­tion and (pi­anist) Rick St­eff. Those both had a very Luceromeets-Mem­phis sound. We fig­ured it was time to try some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. Which ended up be­ing a lit­tle more like the real early Lucero stuff, with an acous­tic feel.”

Though they’re wrap­ping up the sup­port tour for their lat­est al­bum for this year, Lucero al­ready has most of 2016 pretty well mapped out. They’ll un­der­take a Euro­pean tour in Fe­bru­ary, then an­other U.S. tour in April (“Mostly smaller mar­kets we didn’t hit in the fall,” says Nichols). The band is al­ready plan­ning for an­other Lucero Fam­ily Pic­nic event — the an­nual con­cert it stages out­doors at Min­gle­wood Hall — be­fore hit­ting the fes­ti­val cir­cuit in the sum­mer.

Mean­while, Lucero’s mu­sic will be turn­ing up on the big screen. The group has pro­vided a song for the end cred­its to “Mid­night Spe­cial,” the forth­com­ing fea­ture by “Mud” di­rec­tor Jeff Nichols, who also hap­pens to be Ben’s younger brother. Star­ring Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst, the film will be out in the spring, and will fea­ture Lucero’s re­work­ing of the trad folk song clas­sic “Mid­night Spe­cial.”

“It’s a unique cover version. Ba­si­cally I wrote new lyrics and bor­rowed the cho­rus,” says Nichols. “It was one of those fun things to do — to try and take one song apart and put it back to­gether in a whole other way, with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.”

Nichols says he’s also think­ing of work­ing up some songs for his brother’s next fea­ture, “Lov­ing,” start­ing Joel Edger­ton and Michael Shan­non, and due in late-2016. “I’m gonna try and write some stuff and pitch it to him. But it’s a pe­riod piece, set in the ’50s, so I’ll fig­ure out what kind of mu­sic is ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Though his Lucero band­mates Rick St­eff and Roy Berry have done their own ex­per­i­men­tal elec­tronic side projects, Nichols — who’s cut a couple records on his own — isn’t in any rush to release an­other solo plat­ter. “There’s some more ex­per­i­men­tal stuff I’d like to try my­self,” he says. “But no solid plans yet for any am­bi­tious elec­tronic records. Not yet, any­way. We’ll see.”

Mem­phis roots rock­ers Lucero play their an­nual “Fam­ily Christ­mas” show at Min­gle­wood Hall on Satur­day.

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