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Lucero headlines a diverse showcase of gritty, soulful rock

07/16/2014 11:28 AM

07/16/2014 12:01 PM

Tuesday’s three-band show at Crossroads KC was evidence that (a) rock music comes in a variety of flavors and (b) three diverse styles can dovetail into a satisfying evening of music that is as raw and emotional as it is soulful and groovy.

The bill comprised Lucero, a rock/country/soul band from Memphis; Murder by Death, a polyphonic indie-rock band from Bloomington, Ind.; and the Delta Saints, a blues/rock quintet from Nashville. None sounded much like the other. Nonetheless, they kept a crowd of about 700 entertained and engaged for more than four hours.

The Delta Saints opened the show. Their sound is steeped in the Delta blues, thus they prompt comparisons to bands like the North Mississippi Allstars, the White Stripes and the Black Keys. But because of their size, the Saints muster a sound that is larger and beefier.

Lead singer Ben Ringel has the yowl and growl of a ’70s psychedelic blues-rock singer, and he knows his way around a resonator guitar. He was backed by a band that issued plenty of muscle and heft, especially flashy lead guitarist Dylan Fitch, and keyboardist Nate Kremer, who leavened all that grime and grit with heavy gusts of soul.

Highlights of their 35-minute set: “Cigarette,” “Get Up” and the gospel-infused “Death Letter Jubilee.”

Murder by Death followed, opening with “Kentucky Bourbon,” a jaunty country-rock song with a Celtic flavor — arousing a sound akin to the Pogues’ or Flogging Molly’s. They switched gears immediately with “You Don’t Miss Twice (When You’re Shavin’ With a Knife),” a bubbly gypsy-rock song embroidered by cello lines from Sarah Balliet that sounded born of brass, not strings.

Then came “Steal Away,” a gothic rocker that validated early comparisons of this band to Nick Cave. Lead singer Adam Turla is no Cave as a frontman, but he is genuinely animated, and he kept the mood invigorated throughout the 50-minute set.

They returned to their Americana roots on “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs” and then “I Came Around,” which featured some mandolin from keyboardist Scott Brackett, then shifted gears twice: to “Fuego,” another blast of rock-noir, and “Lost River,” a twilit indie folk/rock ballad.

Lucero hit the stage at 10 p.m., two hours after the Delta Saints started. The band is temporarily without guitarist Brian Venable, but it featured two horn players who added some Memphis soul to the band’s sound, a mix of alternative country, roots rock and punk.

Lead singer/guitarist Ben Nichols was in whiskey-sipping mood, which meant the set list slowly turned more introspective, as in sad, slow-moving ballads. Nichols is a songwriter who focuses on lyrics more than songcraft, so his songs are typically narratives laden with imagery and details.

They opened with “The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo,” a tale of city streets, girls, cars and music, like something off Springsteen’s “Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.” Then came “My Best Girl,” an ode to the one who never breaks his heart: his guitar. Then came “On My Way Downtown,” a straight-up country-rock party anthem festooned with horn riffs.

The set list included heartbroke-and-drinking songs like “Nights Like These,” “Texas & Tennessee,” “Goodbye Again” and “Kiss the Bottle,” full-steam-ahead rockers like “Tonight Ain’t Gonna Be Good” and the boogie-soul anthem “Women & Work.”

About halfway through the set, Nichols started taking requests, which blunted the momentum a bit. Two of those were “Cigarettes, Whiskey and Wild Wild Women” and “Drink Till We’re Gone.”

Later, for a few songs, Nichols dismissed the rest of the band except Rick Steff, who, in Venable’s absence, did some extra heavy-lifting on keyboards and accordion. They drifted through a set of sad-sack ballads, then summoned the rest of the band to finish the set with songs like “All Sewn Up” and “Fistful of Tears,” which, thanks to Steff’s soulful piano accompaniment, sounded like a Bernie Taupin/Elton John ballad.

The encore included “Sweet Little Thing” plus an unfortunate attempt by Nichols to get a woman in the crowd to sing “Blackbird” by the Beatles. The clock had struck midnight — past the neighborhood curfew — as he was finishing “Hold Me Close,” another bittersweet love ballad soaked in whiskey and as good a nightcap as any to this rock odyssey.

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