A generous crowd filed in to the old concert theatre on Sherbourne Street in downtown Toronto, emerging from their winter hibernation to take in an early spring show featuring Americana stalwarts Lucero and rising stars Shovels and Rope.
On the road this spring in support of their 2012 album release Women and Work, Lucero arrived to a packed house that was ready for a party, even though it was a Tuesday night. The veteran rockers wasted no time in getting the crowd active as they played the lead track on Women and Work, "On My Way Downtown." Featuring an awesome yet simple guitar lick and blistering horns, "Downtown" is a tune that is guaranteed to get you moving, and the crowd obliged accordingly. Simply put, it's one of the best feel-good songs I've heard in a long time and must be heard live.
Showing they have a way with a ballad, the band moved from "Downtown" to "Nights Like These", a track from their Tennessee album. It was "Nights Like These" that was the first crowd singalong of the evening, and was a stellar lead in to another great sounding ballad, "Darken My Door" from their 1372 Overton Park album. Creating a set list that captured highlights from virtually all of the albums over their 14+ year recording career showed quite smartly how Lucero has experimented with their sound and developed in to one of the superstar bands in Americana/alt-country. Using their lengthy catalogue as their platform, they covered many ranges of musical skill, moving from rockabilly, to psychedellic, to slow country ballad and back to straight up Memphis rock n' blues. Speaking of Memphis, the addition of the horn section is a clear hommage to their home city, and the fans reap the benefits. The horns add a whole new element to the band and are an excellent accompaniment to their already stellar musicianship and songwriting.
As the clock worked well past midnight, Lucero wound down their show with two selections from their That Much Further West album, first with a solo acoustic rendition of the title track, and a final number with the whole band with "Tears Don't Matter Much." Two encore songs later, and an exhausted yet satisfied band and crowd made their way in to the night.
Opening for Lucero was an act that was the talk of the 2012 Americana Music Conference and Festival this year. I can recall many of my fellow attendees saying that their biggest highlight of the festival this year was an amazingly talented duo called Shovels and Rope whom had blown the doors off the tiny Basement club in Nashville. So it was with much anticipation that I looked forward to what I might see with Shovels and Rope opening for Lucero. What I got was a look at two of the most talented artists and musicians on the road across North America, or anywhere for that matter. On the road to support their 2012 Dualtone records release, O' Be Joyful, Shovels and Rope are capturing the attention of fans worldwide, and it's no longer happening quietly. Identifying who is the lead in the duo that is Shovels and Rope is not possible, which is what makes them special. They harmonize on virtually every song, and they both play every instrument (drums, harmonica, maraca, tambourine, guitars) they take on stage with them. And they play them with such blistering intensity that they don't just take the crowd by the hand and lead them on a musical journey, they grab them by the collar and run with them on an adventure. That adventure can be beautiful or it can be incredibly dark, thanks to their strong songwriting.
If I had to pick a sampling of performance highlights for Shovels and Rope, they would be "Keeper", the title track and "Birmingham" which the duo recently performed on Late Night With David Letterman (watch the performance here) Having said that, their entire set was a five star performance. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent are the duo that are Shovels and Rope. And there is every reason to believe they will be the next breakout act in Americana. They are an excellent selection for an opening act on this tour.
Tour stops for Lucero and Shovels and Rope for this weekend include March 29 in Winnipeg, Manitoba at the Park Theatre; March 30 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at Louis' Pub; March 31 in Calgary, Alberta at the Republik; and April 1 at the Starlight Room in Edmonton, Alberta. The tour then shifts to British Columbia and the west coast of the United States in the coming days and weeks.