British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe can croon and snarl as good as the next guy, but the casual, conversational tone of his lyrics is what really pleases the heart. At a Sunday night performance at Chicago’s Old Town School, Lowe commanded the stage. It’s hard to pin point this understated quality he has, but he’s got it in droves.
Though, performing with a superb line-up of backing musicians, something he has not done for a decade, Lowe launched into his unplugged specialties for a brief spell. “Stoplight Roses” is a freshly-minted, beauty. Soft-spoken, but fully engaged, this one really hits the spot. His guitar strums recalled Django Reinhardt several times and when he scolded his heart, “You’ve never been like this before,” we definitely took his side of the argument.
“What’s Shakin’ On the Hill” was a little less wistful. When the band joined up to embellish, “What Lack of Love Has Done” and the rocking “Ragin’ Eyes,” the concert hall was in full tilt. Soaring harmonies, deep plucks from a stand-up bass and some early 50s guitar riff were greatly appreciated by the near-packed house.
“Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” is classic Lowe, full of wry comments told from the standpoint of everyday people in a rut and on the edge. A seething country solo on electric guitar created a brilliant touch, as well. The humour factor was heightened when the Johnny Cash-like arrangement, “Has She Got a Friend?” was played. “I Trained Her to Love Me” was gleaned from the 2007 ‘At My Age’ album. But, anyone at any age, would dig this.
“I Live on a Battlefield” is one of my personal favorites; it’s a sort of sonic catch-all comprised of cutting-edge images paired with humility. “I stumble through the rubble / my home is a shell-hole field,” Lowe wails. The unexpected harmonies drove up the excitement as did a somber electric wail from the strings.
A few other notables were: the ever-poppy and delicious “Cruel to be Kind”, the devotional, “You Inspire Me” and “Without Love” that was steeped in haunting melancholia. Of course, the rocking, “I Knew the Bride” and the more ironic “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” brought the entire audience to their feet. Pianist Geraint Watkins, who had performed the opening set, rejoined Lowe for several gorgeous encores. “Only A Rose” was so pure and evocative, it gave us a chance to fully see the raw genius that these gentlemen shared.
In every way, the concert was a major success full of memorable riffs, confessional lyrics and a hodge-podge of styles from way back when.