Oct. 10, 2011
The Great American Music Hall
Better than: What Lou Reed has chosen to do with his later career, by far.
Although many original punk and new wave musicians delved into American and roots rock later in their career (John Doe, Peter Case, Elvis Costello), Nick Lowe approaches it with a decidedly English inflection and pop sensibility that sets him far ahead of his peers. Lowe has been honing his mellow acoustic pop over his last four albums -- since about the turn of the century -- and last night, he delivered a stellar performance at Great American Music Hall, even if it was mostly lost on the oblivious crowd.
Arriving early did not ensure a decent view of the stage, particularly since the post-yuppie concertgoers seemed to feel entitled to twice the space of a normal person, and the show was strictly seated. Early arrivers who were inclined to pay for some of the Great American's food secured all of the decent seats, but at least they were easy enough to peer over. The crowd appeared to be comprised of aging NPR listeners with slightly better taste than the majority of their demographic.
Lowe was laden in black. His coal-colored pants, shirt, and the frames of his glasses were in stark contrast with his white hair, pale complexion, and sly smile. That duality characterizes much of his output. After all, some of his most pure pop songs deal with murder and mutilation. This tradition of extreme juxtaposition is continued in his recent songs and makes his performance all the more compelling.
Throughout the set, Lowe's charismatic delivery endeared him to the crowd. His stage banter is elegant, calculated, and deceivingly casual. Journeymen performers such as Lowe have toiled over their stage presence, and Lowe has carefully honed his delicate amiability to a pinnacle.
The set drew largely from his recent material, although he delivered poignant versions of his old tunes "Cruel To Be Kind," "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding," and a pleasant rendition of "Alison," penned by his long-time collaborator Elvis Costello, whom he performed with at last year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. "Cruel To Be Kind" was the only tune that elicited a mild reaction from the crowd. The mezzanine nearly erupted into a dance floor, but when the first couple to begin shaking their hips nearly fell over, the other attendees settled back into their chairs.
Given his firm credentials as a power-pop songwriter and producer of various punk and new wave groups, it is no surprise that Lowe's song-crafting prowess shines, despite his radical shift in genre since the '70s. But considering his urgent and raw recording aesthetic, the genre switch seems much less surprising, since Americana and early rock 'n' roll convey the gritty atmosphere Lowe strove for as a producer.
Despite the older crowd and the sterile, seated atmosphere, Nick Lowe's set was refreshingly unpretentious. He exhibited the confidence of an accomplished performer in a position to produce exactly what type of music he pleases, without feeling the need to appease or compromise, and luckily his musical inclinations today lead to songs as compelling and accessible as his better known recordings in the '70s.
Personal bias: I preordered the recent, extremely expensive YepRoc Records vinyl reissues of Nick Lowe's early records with an intense fan boy fury.
Overheard: "I was torn between this and my weekly wine tasting."
Most unnerving people to sit behind: A couple in their mid-'50s sitting for the entire concert without looking at, speaking to, or acknowledging one another or anyone else around them. They were completely catatonic -- motionless and stoic.