Ragan and Nichols go solo at the Middle East
A review of Chuck Ragan with Ben Nichols at the Middle East Downstairs on January 27, 2008
There was no shortage of hipsters drinking cheap PBR or ravaged vocal chords at Chuck Ragan\’s show at the Middle East Downstairs on Sunday night.
With his Springsteen-like vocals (heavier, grittier, but so much alike in pitch and pattern), Ragan screamed about everything from loss to loving thy mother. But despite the energy, and his strong record, and the setlist heavy on Hot Water Music fan favorites (such as "God Deciding"), something was missing. The set sounded thin despite Ragan\’s thunderous roar. That\’s not to say, though, that it was not good. Ragan ripped through songs from his solo debut Feast or Famine and tunes from the 7-Inch Club.
Hot Water Music fans likely wished it was Hot Water Music that they were watching and not just Ragan solo. Maybe& his Hot Water Music back up, was in fact what was missing (I say this more or less because I am in fact one of those Hot Water Music fans that wished that the whole band was there).
Ragan was good, but he could have been great. And judging by his debut solo record, he will be.
Nichols, on the other hand, delivered the better set. His vocal coaches a bottle of mash and a pack of smokes, his guitar strap a piece of rope, and proceeded to melt the crowd\’s collective heart, spitting tales of heartbreak and remorse into the Cambridge night (much of which is probably also filled with heartbreak and remorse). Nichols played predominantly Lucero songs, about which no one complained, though he was also a bearer of gifts in the form of a few new songs (all of which will likely end up being on the next Lucero offering…they were great).
A rowdy handful of New Hampshire natives stood to the left of the stage and chanted endearing calls at Nichols. "New Hampshire fucking love you!" One of the bearded northerners actually made his way through the packed crowd to the front of the stage with a shot glass full of whiskey for he and Nichols, bribing him to play his favorite song. Nichols asked what kind of whiskey it was. He was apparently satisfied because as he took the glass he said, into the mike, "I guess I can be bribed."
Joshua English of Six Going on Seven notoriety opened up. English, who, when with Six Going on Seven, did a split with Ragan\’s Hot Water Music, melded an interesting mix of minimalist percussion, twangy guitar and Ted Leo-esque vocals into what turned out to be a reasonably enjoyable set.
Though at times English\’s tunes were slow and tired, songs like "Married in Memphis", "Our Trouble", and "Miles", with his mix of sentimental yet not garishly overwrought lyrics, prepped the crowd, albeit sparse initially, for the high energy of Nichols and Ragan.