“You can’t choose your family,” drawled Ben Nichols part way through his sold-out, jam-packed Sunday night gig, “…can’t choose your fans.” Normally, seeing the lead singer of a favorite band playing solo/acoustic is one of those shows you’ll take, but you’re really wishing it was the real thing. But if you read my (mostly) positive review on this site from April when Ben had the entire Lucero outfit backing him up at First Ave., you know I am more a fan of the older, sadder songs.
But what Ben does solo is to take even the bigger material from the two more recent albums, 1372 Overton Park and Women & Work and strips them down, pours whiskey down their throats and finds the sad in each and every one. Much in the same way the full band doesn’t work from a set-list, neither did Ben, which lead to a lot of give and take with the exuberant audience. “Not gonna happen,” was his reply to many a request, but if anyone left this show unsatisfied, well, you can’t pick you audience.
Complaining of kidneys trying to push their way out of his back, Nichols drowned his own personal misery in the whiskey the fans up front kept handing his way. At one point, Nichols took a hand off his guitar to raise a toast with a fresh drink and had to ask if it was a quadruple. Yeah, it was that kind of night; later he had to pause in his great cover of “If Only You Were Lonely” to tell us that he had just thrown up in his mouth a little. I’m not saying Ben Nichols is at his best when he’s going to be doing pull-ups on the toilet bowl later, but…
Nichols was in Minneapolis to play a benefit for the St. Jude’s Children’s hospital (the night before at Grumpy’s) but he added this one-off for fun. He succeeded. Toward the end of the night, Ben hefted up the liter bottle of Jameson (which you just have to assume is the lead bullet point on his contract rider) and auctioned it off for St. Jude’s. Knowing he was probably breaking MN blue laws at the time, it suddenly didn’t matter much anymore when a fan in the crowd paid $300 for the bottle; Ben Nichols was truly touched by the generosity, although I was wondering who the hell has three bills left in their wallet at the end of a Ben Nichols or Lucero show. One of the best rock ‘n roll nights I’ve had in some time.