We certainly love Nick Lowe here at PPM. And though their surftastic sound marks them as the “Modern Ventures,” and this blog is rather about music a decade or two later than their heyday, we’ve been catching every Los Straitjackets show since day one. Their playing, tone, and showmanship is immaculate and second to none. They are what’s known in the business, and by that, I mean the industry… as players’ players. Combining the top flight material and delivery of Lowe with accompaniment by Los Straitjackets was simply not to be missed. It had been five years since out las Nick Lowe concert, but that was Nick solo with guitar. Intimate and moving, but probably quite different to what we would experience here this night.
You have to hand it to Lowe. He’s aged unrepentantly and has welcomed the changes. He’s smart enough to know that it was
good no, great policy to have the front half of the venue seated, for a 50% upsell for the modest $20 SRO tickets. What!? Pay $30 for a seated show of Nick Lowe’s? Yes sir! Where do I sign? My wife and I arrived at the sold out venue at 8:00 pm with plenty of time to pick out a pair of great seats and settle in to await the hastily-bolted-on opening act. The promotion for the show did not mention any openers, but once we got there we saw that it was local Britpoppers The Cheeksters. What a stroke of luck! I’d seen them once, many years back, opening for Don Dixon at the same venue, and I knew that we were in good hands. Tonight it was the band as a duo with bass by Shannon and guitar by Mark instead of their typical four-piece setup.
What I found impossible to believe was that the Wham-Bam Bowie Band also had a show at the Isis Music Hall at 9:00 pm the same night… and that Mark was also the lead singer of Asheville’s increasingly famous Bowie cover band. When Mark and his wife Shannon appeared on stage shortly after eight, I half expected him to have a metallic gold disk pained on his forehead, but no, they played a lovely set of his Ray Davies-slash-Peter Noone pop at a simply modest level of volume that encouraged one to listen and savor. Mark was dressed in a casual sportcoat and not a Kansai Yamamoto knockoff. This was not an evening of shouting ahead of us and The Cheeksters were an ideal appetizer for the main event.
Months ago, when this pairing was first announced, I assumed that Los Straitjackets were opening for Nick, then maybe playing a set with him. As it happened, that was nowhere near how it unfolded. Shortly after 9:00 pm Los Straitjackets hit the boards with a crisp Nick Lowe to tear right into Lowe’s debut solo single, “So It Goes.” I’d seen Lowe with his Cowboy Outfit and all by his lonesome on prior occasions. What I had never seen before was Mr. Lowe with a crack band of steely-eyed, flat-bellied professionals who caressed his songs with such tender, loving care. How great did it sound? Well, I have to say it sounded like I was hearing an Everly Brothers’ concert… only with better songs! Given that Rockpile famously included a bonus EP of Everly Brothers’ cover songs with their only waxing, this just might be the sound Lowe had been imagining in his mind for upwards of 40 years or so!
The fun continued with “Ragin’ Eyes,” one of my favorite Lowe songs from the early 80s. The support from Los Stratijackets all sounded effortless with their famously clean tone lending Lowe’s pop-rock an effervescent buoyancy. Lead ‘Jacket Eddie Angel traded off lead lines with Greg Townson, subbing live for a retired Danny Amis. Best of all, about four songs in, the evening hit an inspired peak with the tender ballad, “You Inspire Me.” This was one from 1997’s “Dig My Mood” and a fine example of “late-period” Lowe songcraft. The tune played like the tenderest, prom night slow dance number imaginable. But it came from a perspective of wisdom, not a callow teenaged point of view. The guitar solo taken on that song by Mr. Townson was breathtaking, and I thought it was ending after eight bars, only to give rapt applause before hearing that it went for sixteen. I have to say that it gave me simultaneous goose bumps and a bit of the old misty eye! This is when you know you are in the hands of rare professionals.
Next: …Shaking the Paradigm