To be clear, Langhorne Slim (Sean Scolnick of Langhorne, Pennsylvania) is one of my top five artists of all time. Since Lucero were the actual headliners last night at The Crocodile Café, this post is going to seem a little lopsided.
Slim has enough energy and talent to play his own sold out show, and has before at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle and the Independent in San Francisco, both magnificent shows I had the pleasure of seeing. He’s the type of folk punk who can awe a crowd into quiet poetic reflection, or whisk them up into a frenzy, pulling people on stage to dance. The latter was not on the menu last night since he was opening, but Slim still delivered a fantastic performance. He was joined by his band The Law, who have been with him since 2009 and the album Be Set Free.
A prolific songwriter, Slim has six releases to draw on for live material. Early birds who came to see him called out requests, but he reminded them he was on tour to support his new album, The Way We Move. The new album features such gems as “Coffee Cups,” and “Song For Sid,” both powerful poems of love and loss and memory. His songs often explore the intricacies of relating to a lover, whether in awestruck admiration or in the quiet, resigned acceptance that things change. Older songs like “I Will,” and “Honey Pie,” have a youthful, stubborn tenacity in such lyrics as, “Ain’t no girl gonna tell me, she don’t wanna be my honey pie.”
Slim’s writing has matured, and with this progression, he’s been able to produce masterpieces like “Past Lives.” A beautiful piano ballad about life and growth and love, the song builds slowly, allowing Slim to sit on the edge of the stage or climb down into the crowd. Audience members laughed or sang along as Slim walked past them, raising his microphone to the sky and belting his heart out. An arresting performer, he left them wanting more, and left me wondering whether this could have been billed as a co-headlining gig.
Next, Memphis, Tennessee blues/country/punk band Lucero was a force to be reckoned with. Touring in support of their recent release, Women & Work, the band unloaded an arsenal of country punk ballads and fist-pumpers. The audience sang nearly every word, especially the die-hard fans fiercely defending their posts up front. Fans handed band members beers and whiskey shots from the crowd. One woman remarked that she was so in love with lead singer Ben Nichols that she had been outside for a cigarette four times in an attempt to calm her nerves.
The charismatic singer seemed to be calling the setlist on the spot, avoiding those they’d played the night before. The Saturday night Tractor Tavern gig was sold out, prompting some heated moments. According to a friend of mine, a fight actually broke out between band member and crowd member when bassist John C. Stubblefield played down in the front row and a crowd member got a little too rowdy. The Crocodile was thankfully free of aggression, though whether it was due to it being a Sunday night or its All Ages policy is uncertain. The drummer’s bass drum sported a crocodile head with a full set of teeth, a fitting ornamentation for the night’s venue.
One fan’s affection went above and beyond when he stood directly in front of Nichols with his fists raised, hollering “Woo!” Nichols spoke to him for awhile, and with each statement, the fan would let out another triumphant “Woo!” The singer eventually remarked, “Hell, you might be drunker than I am. It doesn’t even matter what I say, does it? We could have used you in Vancouver.”
But Lucero needed no drunken displays of affection to prove their worth, for their fans are as loyal as any, their songs nuanced and captivating.