The mid-Hudson Valley will always claim a role of some importance in the story of the luminous Brooklyn pop band Lucius, wherever that story should lead. Their first BSP appearance, as part of the 2012 O+ Festival, initiated the local buzz. Months later, a dazzling follow-up show at BSP – on a “Brooklyn sampler” bill along with the excellent art-groove band Ava Luna and local psych-pop luminary Shana Falana – cemented it.
That night, Lucius’ now-legendary NPR Tiny Desk performance had just started to go viral and the band radiated a sense of about-to-happen, an energy often more powerful than happening itself. There was a feeling among the half-full weeknight crowd that night that we might see this band on Letterman within in a week or two – intuitively, that seemed to be the trajectory. BSP booking agent Mike Amari, who has co-authored a lot of buzz and incubated more than a couple of blossoming national bands in his time there, leaned over to me and said, “The next time they play here, it will have to be in the back room.” (The back room at BSP holds at least 1,000.)
At that point, of course, Lucius knew what was up and what was going down. They had already signed on with Tony Margherita Management (Wilco) and bigger stuff was in the works, including a featured weekend at Wilco’s own Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA out in Margherita’s neck of the woods. Happening was happening.
Actual liftoff was delayed a bit because, at that time, a four-song proof-of-concept EP was all the music that the band had released. It was an intentionally ADHD sampler, anchored by a couple of high-sheen glitter-pop tunes with a delightful McCartneyesque rocker in “Genevieve” tagged on. But what really crowned the Lucius EP was a brilliant bit of homely country-bluesish crooning called “Go Home,” the song that – no matter what their nominal hit is – remains their most beloved, and justifiably so; few tunes by anyone ever achieve that kind of natural lift.
For all of their style-hopping, musical and wardrobe playfulness, the alien twin ruse and the audacious and confrontational mustachery of the male bandmembers, Lucius’ pop opulence derives from two simple sources: Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig write exceptionally buoyant, articulate and memorable melodies, and all five of them sing like goddamned angels. This makes them a thrilling live band, whether fully outfitted for postmodern electro-pop play or gathered around a single microphone (where they are arguably at their very best).
Happening is a funny thing, deflating in some ways as a world of speculative possibility gives way to a single, tenuous actuality: that this magic pop group is now “just another” nationalized BK concern in a big pool of same, crossed over now to the managed side with all its opportunities and pressures, all the suddenly vague soul-sell bargains of the post-sales era of music. Lucius’ full-length, Wildewoman (2013, Mom & Pop Records), was recorded locally at the rustic Applehead Studio outside of Woodstock. And it is an excellent, maximalist pop record. Two songs from the EP were recut for it, and fans often dispute whether, perhaps, some of their magic was lost in the reboot (call me “not sure”); but the band had the good sense to pass “Go Home” along from EP to LP untouched, in all its original roomy and demo-style glory. It stands out amidst the distressed indie-production pop of Wildewoman like Mt. Sore Thumb, but I would still bet that it is the one song that they are obliged to play every night out, ’cause it just doesn’t seem to get old.
Of all the bands out there looking at a big “what next,” here’s the one that I like to wonder about the most. Lucius performs at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Wednesday, September 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $18 in advance, $20 on the day of the show. The Bearsville Theater is located at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock. For more information, call (845) 679-4406 or visit www.bearsvilletheater.com.
Lucius, Wednesday, September 16, 8 p.m., $18/$20, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.