Report: Nick Lowe Live in San Fran


The Jesus of Cool
plays to “his people” at the Great American
Music Hall on October 10.


By Jud Cost


Nick Lowe, the self-proclaimed “Jesus of Cool,”
strolls onstage at the Great American Music Hall, a stringbean toting an
acoustic guitar, decked out in two-tone shoes, a pink and black pop-over shirt
with short sleeves rolled up, drainpipe Levi’s pegged to 12-inches at the cuff
and a cat chain hanging from his slim suede belt. Not really. But I bet he has
something like that tucked away in a trunk in his attic.


Tonight he wore a more age-appropriate outfit: brown slacks
and a brown shirt. He eyeballs a maxed-out sit-down crowd through specs with
those thick black plastic sidebars. His voice is a littler mellower these days,
something you’d expect from a guy who’s been around long enough to have played
in pub-rock bastions, Brinsley Schwarz, 40 years ago. But one thing hasn’t
changed: Nick Lowe has written songs that will last forever. And he played
quite a few of them tonight. (Read the review of his latest album here.)


“It’s a pleasure to play before my own people, at
last,” says Lowe with a wide grin. “Although I suppose there may be a
few of you who just wandered in for a drink.” He’s been opening shows for
Wilco lately, “playing for Wilco’s people,” he says. “Haven’t
been in that line of work for a while.” Lowe has only one favor to ask of
his devotees: Please no handclapping to take the place of the missing rhythm
section. “It’s something I’ve heard too much of,” he says, “some
seriously bad white-man handclapping.” Singing the missing backing vocals,
he insists, is perfectly OK. “Send it to me,” he urges, and he got
just what he asked for.


“I’m only paying back womankind for all the grief I
got,” trills Lowe in his ironically titled “I Trained Her To Love Me.”
It’s great to hear “Heart,” one of the highlights of the only
official album cut by the short-lived Rockpile, a band that included both Lowe
and Dave Edmunds and who played San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre only once, in
1980. The down and out ballad “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” finds
Lowe bumping into Kris Kristofferson at the laundry hamper, both fumbling
around for their cleanest dirty shirt. The biggest reaction, so far, greets
Lowe’s only American hit, a top ten number from 1979, “Cruel To Be
Kind,” which Lowe plays with the flair and agile beauty of a matador.


“Here’s a song by an old friend,” says Lowe before
a stunning, ultra-quiet reading of Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” slowed
down to a dead crawl that makes it all but impossible to remove those pretty
fingers from the wedding cake. Then he flicks the switch to add instant reverb
to a Lowe track (Dave Edmunds made it famous) that borrows a few coats of Cajun shellac from
Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell.” “I Knew the Bride When She
Used to Rock And Roll” is a perfect little short story in two minutes and
change. (“Well I can see her now in the tight blue jeans/Pumpin’ all the
money in the record machine/Spinnin’ like a top, you shoulda seen her go/I knew
the bride when she used to rock and roll.”)


Like any savvy veteran who’s been around for the long haul,
Nick Lowe knows his bombshell set-closer better than anybody else. You have to
mentally fill in the missing Rickenbacker 12-string, but nothing can dampen the
nerve-jangling effect of one of the 25 best songs in the entire history of
pop/rock music: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love &
Understanding.” It’s a devastating work that strips away all vestiges of
irony, sarcasm and cynicism like industrial-strength acetone eradicating
anything that comes from a cheap can of paint.


It would have been nice to hear another of Lowe’s best,
“Marie Provost,” the Hollywood
-derived tale of the silent-screen star who was eaten by her pet
dog. Or any number of the man’s classics – “So It Goes,”
“American Squirm” or “Heart of the City” – but the old cliché
holds especially true for Nick Lowe. He could stand there and sing the contents
of the menu from a Bulgarian restaurant and it would sound pretty good. With a
dollop of sour cream and a shake of paprika, even better still.


[Photo Credit: Dan Burn]



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