This was a concert that I had been waiting a loooooong time for. I’d always been an admirer more than a fan of Nick Lowe and the scant number of his releases in the Record Cell is probably in inverse proportion to my esteem for his art. Shameful, I know! The only time I’d ever had the pleasure before was when Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit opened up for the ill-starred Elvis Costello + The Attractions on their [most appropriately named] “Goodbye Cruel World” tour in 1984. Thank goodness.
Mr. Lowe provided all of the entertainment value by his lonesome that night. EC himself will refer to “GCW” as his “worst album ever” and I’m not inclined to disagree. So when I saw Mr. Lowe on the roster of The Grey Eagle, I thought “Finally!” to myself. After buying his “Party Of One” album in 1990 I’d long since been wanting another round with the now silver-maned crooner and his recent spate of lo-energy non-rock albums marked him as one of the few icons that believed in aging gracefully. I’d recently obtained his latest, “The Old Magic,” and the album’s songs would be a tasty treat in person, no question.
The opening act for the evening was Chuck Prophet, whom I’d never heard of. I’ve been so busy with work lately, that there was no time to investigate this man online so when we arrived 15 minutes before showtime, we grabbed the best seats available and waited [not long] for the evening to begin. The intimate room was actually filled to at least near capacity for the graciously seated evening’s program. The Grey Eagle is a tight ship and at 8:00 sharp the MC started her off. Mr. Prophet played a folk rock brace of tunes accompanied by his acoustic guitar and [most ingeniously] a 2nd vocal mike that had been punched with a filtered effect that afforded him the ability to add counterpoint as though through a megaphone. He sometimes harmonized wordlessly via the FX mike to fill an otherwise missing keyboard niche in his solo music. Clever. But his penchant for yukking it up with extended intros/standup routines and incessant ad-libs didn’t do much to divert attention from his perfunctory lyrics. His strong suit? Definitely his dynamic guitar playing. Much of the crowd of old geezers were familiar with him, and his final song got a lot of singalong feedback, but it was all new to me.
Nick Lowe is mainly touring solo these days, so there was not too long to wait before he strolled onstage with his acoustic guitar and began straight away at 9:00 p.m. For those unaware, there has been a mellowing of the acerbic Nick Lowe performance style and voice over the years as he’s in his early sixties now. Nick is appalled by aging rockers trying to forestall the grim reaper and he’s clearly unimpressed. So he’s taking it as it comes and bending to the will of time; dialing down the style and energy while refining the emotional impact of his powerful tunes. Quite frankly, to my ears, he resembles none other than Nat “King” Cole these days! The phrasing and timbre is awfully similar!
He opened without the poignant “Stoplight Roses” from “The Old Magic,” and one wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that it was an obscure Cole tune that was playing back. The manner in which Lowe delivers the song in solo acoustic performance is absolutely lovely. It adds even more grace to the heartbreaking tune.
I was pleased to see that he did the song from 1990’s “Party Of One” most congruent with his new style; “What’s Shakin’ On The Hill.” In fact, anyone who’s been listening to Lowe over his career will rightfully discern that his penchant for countrypolitan sounds has always been just below the surface of his music, and his embrace of that style currently should not be all that shocking. Certainly in the case of “Hill” one can extrapolate it directly to the sound of the latest album.
I’ll go so far as to suggest that Lowe has never sounded better that he did last night to me. The paring away of filigree and ratcheting down of volume allows the full subtlety of his nuanced performance to enhance the impact of the songs to a remarkable degree. And after all of that, it makes the music sound fantastic! The way he caresses these songs of tenderness or hurt sounds like what a million dollars can’t buy!
But being that this was Nick Lowe, there was room for wilier numbers like “Cruel To Be Kind” and the still boisterous “I Knew The Bride [When She Used To Rock And Roll].” The latter ended the set on a extremely upbeat note following a suite of bittersweet tenderness following the former.
The first encore opened with Rockpile’s “When I Write The Book” and next included a devastatingly poignant rendition of his classic “[What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace, Love, And Understanding.” Remove all of the memory of the bombastic Elvis Costello rendition out of your mind, and 86 any memory of the callow Brisnley Schwartz original while you’re at it! This was how the song was meant to be delivered! The delicacy of his phrasing hits at inverse proportion to it’s decibel level.
The first encore ended with an upbeat new song, “Tokyo Bay,” which almost sounded like a companion piece to “Party Of One’s” Gai-Gin Man.” Following that, Lowe left the stage for as long as it took to type this paragraph until he returned to deliver his second, and final, encore; an even more tender take on his pal Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” It never sounded more at home than with Lowe last night. His tour is almost wrapped up but by all means take the pleasure if he’s within striking distance. Seeing him last night was a gift. I just hope it’s not another 28 years before I see him again.
Nick Lowe Fall 2012 Tourdates
11 October 2012 | Carrboro, NC | The Cat’s Cradle
13 October 2012 | Westhampton Beach, NY | Westhampton Beach Perf. Arts Center
14 October 2012 | Port Washington, NY | Landmark On Main Street
28 October 2012 | Basel, Switzerland | Avo Sessions
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