Nick Lowe at City Winery
It's hard to believe but Nick Lowe is now 68 years of age. He has been recording and touring since the early '70s and now in the late 2010s, he shows no signs of slowing down.
An English pub rocker who made his name in Power Pop and New Wave as both artist and producer, Lowe is best known for his songs "Cruel to Be Kind" (a US Top-40 single) and "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" (a Top-10 UK hit), as well as for his work with the Pub-Rock group, Brinsley Schwartz, as the bassist in both Rockpile (with Dave Edmunds, Terry Williams and Billy Bremner) and in Little Village (with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner) and for his production work for Elvis Costello, Graham Parker, Carlene Carter, The Pretenders, John Hiatt, The Dammed and others.
Lowe is a smooth singer who plays guitar, bass, piano and harmonica. During the course of his solo career, Lowe has recorded a string of well-reviewed solo albums for Columbia Records and Yep Roc Records. Though many consider it a hit Elvis Costello song, Lowe is actually the writer of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."
On a pleasant Saturday evening, smack in the middle of a three night stint at New York's City Winery, the rail thin singer performed following a short set by opening act Kat Edmundson. Appearing alone, with just his guitar, Lowe delivered an amazing performance that touched on all aspects of his career. Lowe was in fine voice and while his vocals aren't as strong as they were during his rockin' days, the man still sounds fantastic. In this, an unplugged setting, Lowe let his voice convey so much--happiness, joy, humor and peace--with all the subtleties of each shining through.
Known for his sly sense of the absurd [the man recorded an album called Jesus Of Cool (Columbia Records, 1978)], Lowe was at ease as he joked with the audience that he would "play some new material, some old stuff and of course the signature songs." He likened it to "going to see Billy Joel and not hearing him play 'We Didn't Start The Fire.' We can't have that."
Lowe's performance was sparse and simple. He stood center stage and strummed his acoustic guitar and with little fanfare let his witty lyrics and voice tell the story. The vast majority of Lowe's songs are short. He stated, "The good thing about my songs is that they're all about 2 1/2 minutes long." Yes, they're short. Short but powerful. They tell stories. They get an audience's attention and they're brilliant. Lowe didn't provide a lot of banter, but when he did speak to the crowd he made it count, explaining the stories behind the songs into which he chose to provide a larger glimpse.
The mostly middle-aged audience were thrilled to be in attendance. During the 90-plus minute show Lowe delivered almost every song that these long-time fans could have hoped for. After opening with "People Change," highlights included: "Ragin' Eyes," "Has She Got a Friend?," "Without Love," "I Trained Her to Love Me," "I Live on a Battlefield," "Shelly My Love" (which he explained was a song that he thought would be a huge hit--it wasn't but it was recorded by Rod Stewart), "When I Write the Book" and the main set closer "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll)." Never one to let the opportunity to have a laugh pass, Lowe also played a stellar version of "Cruel To Be Kind." While the audience was applauding his performance of, this, his biggest hit, Lowe stepped up to the mic and crooned, "We didn't start the fire..." A good laugh was had by all.
He then proceeded to the encores and good naturedly explained that he wanted to play a newer song that had a bit of a Rockabilly vibe. "Tokyo Bay" would have fit in nicely on Rockpile's Seconds of Pleasure (Columbia Records, 1980) album or Lowe's Columbia Records solo offerings Labour Of Lust (1979), The Rose of England (1985) or Pinker and Prouder Than Previous (1988). Next up was "(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." While Costello's version is angry and aggressive, the version that Lowe sang on this Saturday evening was infused with tenderness tinged with irony.
Just prior to closing-out the evening, Lowe gave a little plug and announced that he had t-shirts and CDs for sale and that any audience member wanted to "stop by to say hello, he'd be there shortly." The evening ended with a beautiful and poignant version of Costello's "Alison" which was followed by a standing ovation.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon
Setlist: People Change, Stoplight Roses, Long Limbed Girl, Ragin' Eyes, Has She Got a Friend?, 'Til the Real Thing Comes Along, Blue on Blue, Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, Without Love, Crying Inside, I Trained Her to Love Me, I Live on a Battlefield, Shelley My Love, Cruel to Be Kind, Sensitive Man, When I Write the Book, House for Sale, My Mary, I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll) Encores: Tokyo Bay, (What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, Alison