Ben Nichols: Crosswoods, Garwood, NJ 9 February 2019

by Carene Lydia Lopez on February 19, 2019

This was the second half of my Rhett Miller/Ben Nichols sandwich for the week. Ben does not tour solo as often as Rhett does and he only has one solo album, so most of what he plays is Lucero, which is fine by me. He also plays songs that the band does not usually play.

Peter and I had gone to this show at Crosswoods last year and we got there early enough for dinner and I was able to stand at the stage. So, our plan was to do the same. Unfortunately, the Zipcar he rented was late in being returned and he had to go to three places to find a car. We would not have time for dinner. And it looked like we were going to miss the opening act because we would be getting there after 8pm. I certainly was going to be nowhere near the stage, which is a problem because I am short. And I get uncomfortable and claustrophobic in the middle of a crowd.

Peter was driving way too fast and I asked him three times to slow down. We were going to be late no matter what, so it did not matter. I was angry but not at him – I was angry at the people who had screwed up our plans.

It turns out the opening act was not going on until 9pm, so we were there in plenty of time for that. But the room was crowded. I found a spot about 3 to 4 people deep and I could see the performers if I bobbed and weaved between the tall people who insist on standing up front and blocking views. I was in a bad mood and it was getting worse and I was not sure if even Ben could get me out of it.

Chris Batten (acoustic guitar) and Nick Guido (acoustic guitar) of Chris Batten and the Woods played acoustic versions of songs from their band. The music is on the border of blue-eyed soul but just a little more pop. This was not the crowd for the band. Most of the music was too soft. In fact, one of their original songs that I liked was called “Sad Songs.” I think they covered “Band of Gold.”

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Ben came on stage at about 10:10pm and even though he threatened to end his set sometime after 11pm, he ended up playing for two hours. He immediately warned us that he had not practiced. Some of us helped him out with “Can’t You Hear Them Howl.”

After “To My Dearest Wife,” he was telling us that the baby girls were asleep in the hotel. Izzy had been to the show the night before and, like a trouper, she stayed up for the entire show. And even though she wanted to see Daddy play this night, she immediately went to sleep. One late night was enough for her. Ben ended up telling us that story at least one more time and then later when I was talking to him after the show, he repeated the story again. Ben had had a few drinks during the night. He told us he’s a bourbon man now – that’s the drink for a mature man. In his 20s and 30s, he drank Jamesons and when he is older he will drink scotch, even though he gets a hangover while drinking it. But at 39yo, his drink became bourbon. Despite that, he did drink any shots of whiskey that were brought up to him. He said Jamesons went down very easy now.

One very drunk man with his pregnant wife kept up a conversation with Ben for a while talking about the baby and making sure that Ben would sign her belly after the show – she wore a white shirt just for that purpose. Eventually he quieted down and someone yelled out for “Hello Sadness” and Ben said it was early in the night for the requests portion of the show but he played it anyway because he had nothing else.

“The more I drink the less songs I know, so let’s play the ones I know first.”

Some people started clapping along to “Texas & Tennessee” and Ben stopped playing. He said he did not want to be an asshole but he cannot play when people are clapping. This was about the time that I was feeling warm and claustrophobic and I went to the bar. That was a mistake because it was filled with people talking and I could not see or hear Ben. I moved to the outside of the floor crowd and still could not see well but at least I could hear him.

I did not hear what prompted this but Ben said he does not play weddings anymore. Apparently, the last wedding they played, the band was not what the mother-in-law had in mind for a wedding band and she was not happy.

He introduced “Summer Song” as having been written by his buddy Brian Venable. “Mom” got at least two false starts as he tried to remember the chords and the lyrics. The audience did help with the lyrics. There was an exchange about New Jersey with Ben saying that his mother has never been to fucking New Jersey.

“Downtown/On My Way Downtown” also had a false start or two. He introduced the song as being about getting drunk and calling a girl to meet him downtown. “It doesn’t get any deeper than that.” I saw Oliver Peck dancing along to the song with Ben’s wife Nina next to him.

“Raising Hell” is about his middle brother, who Ben said should be in jail based on the stories he tells. He said he’s a songwriter and youngest brother Jeff is a filmmaker but middle brother Matthew, the criminal defense attorney, is the best storyteller of the three. Ben also mentioned that Jeff writes, directs, and gets funding for his films. Ben would never produce an album – he does not have the attention span.

It was getting late and Ben kept threatening to leave the stage but then said he would play one more. Or maybe two or three more and we kept getting more songs.

And I was in a much better mood than I had been when I had walked in the door of the club.

He did some of my absolute favorites like “Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?” and “Loving.” I am a big fan of the sad slow songs. His songwriting goes right to the heart.

At the end of the night I asked when he would be back in NYC. The band is opening for Flogging Molly in February but I cannot make that show. He said he did not know when they would be back and he was going to take some time off. I told him that he and the band deserve the rest and to spend time with their families.

Setlist

Can’t You Hear Them Howl
To My Dearest Wife
Hello Sadness
Among the Ghosts
Davy Brown
Chambers
Texas & Tennessee
Mine Tonight
I’ll Just Fall
Crystal Blue
I Woke Up in New Orleans
Nights Like These
Chain Link Fence
Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?
Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles
Hold Me Close
Bikeriders
Summer Song
Hello My Name is Izzy
The War
Loving
Mom
Downtown (Intro)/On My Way Downtown
Raising Hell
Slow Dancing
She’s Just That Kind of Girl
Everything Has Changed
I Can’t Stand to Leave You

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