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Words and Photos by Autumn Walden

I was down for a little rough and tumble on a Thursday night, and I found it at Union Transfer. The Charleston-based male-female duo, Shovels and Rope, opened for Lucero—a band of tattooed dudes from Memphis. At first, I was surprised at how quickly the main floor filled with people as soon as Shovels and Rope hit the stage, but when the voice of Cary Ann Hearst calls you in for supper and the drumbeat of Michael Trent threatens to bring down the sky…well, you better bring your ass.

Cary and Michael took turns playing guitar, banging the drums, and shaking time, with an added mix of Michael’s harmonica and Cary’s keyboard fingering (though she tossed the keys to the ground when the battery ran out). With heavy-throated songs like “Birmingham”, “Tickin’ Bomb”, “Shank Hill St”, and “Keeper” from their latest album, O’ Be Joyful, your body and soul are summoned to dance and shout—forced to beat your hands on your leg or stomp your feet into the earth. Their performance is as visceral and unyielding as Shovels and Rope—the namesake of their 2008 album. “Well, ain’t it just like you and me to go down like that: bleeding out in a boxcar, shot in the back…”

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After their set, I was expecting the space near the stage to clear out during intermission so I could get a little closer, but the crowd hung tight for Lucero. And, I’ll tell you something: Lucero fans are NO JOKE. They know all the lyrics to all the songs, they sing the lyrics at the top of their lungs, they call out requests for their favorite songs, and some get so rowdy that the floor becomes a mosh pit. And ironically enough, all the rowdy angst and shouting was set to a pop-inspired, alternative soundtrack about heartbreak, sung by Lucero’s Ben Nichols.

Hearing songs like “Kiss The Bottle”, “Texas and Tennessee”, “My Best Girl”, and “Ain’t So Lonely”, helped me understand the sentiment behind their latest album entitled Women and Work—smoking too much, drinking too much, thinking too much…over a woman. It’s the stuff that never gets old. I was reminded of the band Staind while observing a crowd of young males identifying with every single lyric of love lost or of personal failure that escaped Nichols’ lips. But the boys were not alone—the girls were singing right along and holding their hearts too.

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In between songs, Ben Nichols would sip his drink and reveal pieces of himself, while he charmingly laughed off a few mistakes while he played. When a fan cried out for the song “Coming Home”, Nichols replied, “Man, I forgot that song a long time ago.” Apparently, the song “The War” was written for Ben’s granddad and he mentioned he had a song for his daddy but admitted he wasn’t quite up for playing it. Another fun fact: one of Ben’s brothers, Jeff Nichols, is a film director, while his other brother Matthew is a lawyer. After praising his brothers, Ben hinted at his own shortcoming of being a musician. Well, I disagree, Ben—keep writing and singing and loving because you’ve got fans who hang on your every word and chord.

Check out the photo gallery below. You can follow both bands on twitter: @shovelsandrope and @luceromusic.