Santa Cruz's Alex Lucero in a screenshot from one of his music videos.
(Handout)
The Here & Now

Powerful voice, stay-visible strategy made Alex Lucero the pandemic’s soundtrack

Santa Cruz five-piece Alex Lucero & the Live Again Band didn’t hibernate amid COVID-19, and their prolific in-person and livestreamed gigs helped fill the void for local fans — who can see the group in person Sunday at the Felton Music Hall.

The live music scene across the country is only now starting to awaken after a year-long pandemic hibernation, as familiar names again start to perform for familiar audiences in familiar venues.

But some musical acts in fact have no need to come crawling out of their hibernation dens, because they were never there so much to begin with.

In Santa Cruz County, one of that tiny minority of bands that stayed relevant and active throughout the pandemic is Alex Lucero & the Live Again Band. The five-piece Santa Cruz outfit has actually raised its profile during the 15 months of shutdown by aggressively playing live-virtual events and playing at COVID-restricted in-person venues whenever it was possible.

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The band’s namesake frontman and bassist is now one of the most talked-about talents on the Santa Cruz scene. Lucero is quickly gaining a reputation for riveting live performance, thanks mostly to a supple and powerful singing voice.

As a vocalist, Lucero invests his cover tunes and his originals with a sensuous style that recalls the great soul singers of the 1970s, a touch of Al Green there, a shade of Van Morrison there.

On Father’s Day, Lucero and his band will play live at Felton Music Hall at a gig set as an afterparty to the day’s earlier outdoor show over at Roaring Camp. Live Again are, in fact, no strangers to the FMH stage, having played there throughout the pandemic year whenever it was allowed.

It was in Felton on Sundays and at the Sand Bar in Capitola on Mondays that the band performed regularly in spite of low-capacity crowds, mask mandates, and distancing.

In between those gigs, Lucero & Live Again played consistently on social media, sometimes jamming at their home studio, other times in otherwise empty venues across the county, from Severino’s to the South Point Tap Room to the Seascape resort. (The band was also busy doing relief shows for local victims of the CZU fires last fall).

“We just reached out to local businesses,” said Lucero, “that were struggling but still open and said, ‘We know you guys are serving food and we have this platform online and we just want to have a different background for our audiences.’ So we’d go to these venues that were shut down for the general public, bring our camera gear and do a livestream without an audience.”

It was with this stay-visible strategy that many local music fans began to turn on to Lucero’s compelling vocals in service to both familiar old tunes and new originals.

Lucero is originally from the Central Valley town of Oakdale, northeast of Modesto. He and his band — Mick Adams on guitar, Ken Kishlansky on saxophone, Tom Bartolero on percussion, Jake McCuen on drums — have been playing locally for the past seven years.

Their music fits comfortably in the nexus between blues, rock, country, R&B and soul, but it is probably most suited to the Americana arena (which local music fans know more intimately as the KPIG sound).

As a teen, Lucero took part in musical-theater training: “I wasn’t so much an actor, but I really fell in love with singing in front of an audience.” He took the vocal techniques and skillset he learned in theater training and applied them to his first true love, the soul music of the later Motown era, most notably Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Lucero’s musical lodestar, Marvin Gaye.

In her Sunday show, KPIG programmer Kiana Lee mixes boomer touchstones with Americana voices from a younger generation.

Live Again dutifully and joyfully plays cover tunes during their sets, but they are most deeply committed to their original material, best presented on their latest album, “Dotted Line.” That recording was released soon after the March 2020 shutdown, but the material Lucero and his bandmates wrote and recorded during the pandemic itself remains unreleased. That most recent collection of songs is being showcased in their concerts now, but the band is shooting for a release of that new recording, to be called “Opportunity,” in August.

“It’s always been my motto,” said Lucero, “to do things when it’s fresh and new in my brain, and start incorporating that into the set right away as opposed to waiting for the album release.”

Alex Lucero & the Live Again Band play live at Felton Music Hall on Sunday. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of the show.