Lucero shows two sides to their sound at annual Christmas concert
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.