Lucero: Memphis Band Loves Horns, Texas "Knuckleheads"

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It's always reassuring to know that some things never change - like Houston concert audiences' loutish reputation.

"Houston is notorious for its knuckleheads," says Lucero lead guitarist Brian Venable, who doesn't seem to hold a grudge.

If there were any doubt that the Memphis alt.country rockers have forgotten about the November 2009 show at Meridian, when one of our upstanding citizens in the crowd began pushing the band's piano player, it's gone now. Lucero's stage manager came to the keyboardist's aid vigilante-style, an act Venable describes as "protecting family."

"Certain cities are rowdier than others," he says diplomatically. "It happens when you have 300 to 800 people in a room, some of them drinking heavily."

Luckily, Lucero doesn't seem to bear the rest of their Houston fans any ill will. They've been here too many times since then - Free Press Summer Fest in 2010, Fitzgerald's in February 2011 - for that to be he case. Venable chalks it up to advantageous routing and Fitz being a lot more pleasant than the other "cinder-block places" in town Lucero has played in the past.

Lucero's latest album, Women & Whiskey (released tomorrow) is like its last, 2009's 1372 Overton Park, in that the band has fully embraced the sound of Stax Records, the studio and record label that via Atlantic Records released a string of albums and singles in the '60s and '70s that created the sound of Southern soul and are still used as a blueprint by superstars like Kanye West: Songs like Booker T & the MGs' "Green Onions," Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" and Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft."

No one today could ever mistake Women & Work and 1372 Overton Park for anything but Memphis albums, but Venable says the city's rich rock and soul history didn't weigh much on Lucero when they first started.

"A lot of times you can't see the forest for the trees," he admits. "You're young, you like punk rock, you can't wait to get out of town. I don't think anyone [that age] gets wowed by the history of the place they live."

Women & Whiskey is Lucero's eighth album and first on ATO Records, making them labelmates with Drive-By Truckers and My Morning Jacket (and making Dave Matthews, who co-owns the label, one of their bosses). Venable can think one important difference between the new record and Lucero's unrulier previous albums like early landmark That Much Further West (2003) and 2005's Nobody's Darlings.

"We were a rock and roll band singing sad songs," he laughs. "Now we're a rock and roll band singing sad songs with horns."

With Built to Spill and Dinosaur Feathers, 8 p.m. Tonight at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak.

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