Everybody Got Soul: Uncle Lucius Live at O2 Academy, London
I reviewed Uncle Lucius’s The Light a few months ago and watched numerous videos of them on YouTube. So it was pretty obvious that a live Uncle Lucius show was a high priority for me. Tonight was the night, and the show was in Angel rather than Austin but once the band took the stage, that detail didn’t matter. Despite this being the final leg of Uncle Lucius’s long European tour, they gave their all. There wasn’t much chat between songs, they just got on with it.
The venue was well-selected, too. Though not at capacity, there was a lively atmosphere among an enthusiastic audience, in which there were some true fans. There were others who seemed out for a natter but the sound engineer saw to that. It was loud. The stage was quite small and made to look even smaller; these are big boys whose presence was impressive even before they played a single note.
Uncle Lucius, named after a distant friend they describe as “eccentric,” have been around since 2002. The line-up is co-founder, lead vocalist, and guitarist, Kevin Galloway; lead guitarist Mike Carpenter; keyboardist Jonny “Keys” Grossman; drummer Josh Greco; and bassist Johann Valles. They have built up a loyal following in their home state of Texas and beyond, through hard work and constant touring. Europe is not on their regular itinerary, but if tonight was anything to go by, they can expect to see more fans at their shows next time.
I became interested in Uncle Lucius when I saw that they described themselves as “southern rock for the thinking man.” I kept that in the back of my mind throughout the set. They have a lot of southern rock influences but also quite a bit more. They call to mind the Allman Brothers when Mike Carpenter gets into his slide intros and solos. They have some great rocking songs in the Skynyrd tradition, but there is also jazz, zydeco, and country, so “southern” in this case means just about everything south of the Mason Dixon Line.
They opened their set with “Coming Down” followed by “Age of Reason” with some delicious slide work from Carpenter; that song is one of the peaks of their album The Light. Galloway has a big voice too, adding further power to both the band’s playing and the lyrics. Next up was the rocker “End of 118,” which really pumped up the tempo. Then, having gone up a couple of gears, they brought the pace back down a notch with some accordion from Grossman on “Rosalia,” from their previous album, And You Are Me. Then came “Jazz Hands,” which took us straight to New Orleans.
It’s that variety and the band’s mastery of so many genres that characterised this show. Uncle Lucius go beyond Southern influences in their cover of The Band’s “Caledonia Mission.” They have a distinct sound; a fusion of styles that forms so much of what is now called Americana. Not so much a criticism but a suggestion, would be to let Carpenter jam a bit more. His solos are a highlight of the show but felt cut short in some cases. “Wheels Fall” was an example this night.
Toward the end of the set, we got a funky version of “Don’t Own the Right,” another from The Light. They finished the set with “Somewhere Else” before returning for an encore with “Liquor Store” and “Everybody Got Soul.” On both, Carpenter let rip, even playing with a fiddle bow a la Jimmy Page. Maybe more of that earlier in the set?
This show lived up to my high expectations. Uncle Lucius is an immensely talented group of musicians, they are very nice, modest people too, coming out to talk to the audience after the show. No rock and roll excesses here, not least when I saw Kevin Galloway standing in the queue at the burger joint next door before the gig. No single player dominates this band as they all write and contribute equally to the group.
That, and of course soul, is what Uncle Lucius is all about.