Sorry, the best look at Nick Lowe we can give you is a picture of his concert poster. His tour manager imposed a 50-foot, no-flash, two-song limitation on all photographers (and Reverb’s John Moore was the only one). We could try to pass off these other images as artsy … but they’re not.
By R.K. Beegle
Nick Lowe’s Boulder Theater concert Tuesday was part of a what had been labeled in some online circles as the “Jesus of Cool” tour, in honor of his recently reissued 1978 masterpiece. The prospect of hearing Lowe perform his wry punk-era classics with a rock ‘n’ roll band surely had a lot of fans drooling in anticipation.
No dice. But the 59-year-old Englishman and his acoustic guitar left little room for disappointment, putting the focus squarely on the man’s 40-year catalog of genius pop songs.
Lowe gained his (cult) fame in the late ’70s as a producer for the legendary Stiff Records, where he manned the controls for groundbreaking albums by the Damned and Elvis Costello, plus his own cheeky “Jesus” collection of oddball pop (released in America as “Pure Pop for Now People”).
He had something of a hit in 1979 with “Cruel to Be Kind,” and made the radio waves a few years later as co-leader (with Dave Edmunds) and principal songwriter of the rowdy Rockpile. But as Lowe sang in his opening number, “People Change.” These days he’s all about the songs, and that’s just fine. In light of his riveting Boulder performance, any attempt by Lowe to re-create ’78 could only have come off as undignified.
And the man does have some songs. Lowe, long a student of classic American pop, has absorbed his lessons well. Stripped to the bone, older gems like “When I Write the Book,” “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” confirmed their greatness, while more recent songs like “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” made some of us wonder why more-famous singers aren’t regularly turning to Lowe’s catalog for sure-fire hits.
Many of his best songs of the past two decades are in the vein of classic ’50s and ’60s country music, with wordplay so polished that, in the grand honky-tonk tradition, it’s sometimes saved from self-parody only by the depth of self-loathing just under the surface. Hearing Lowe play “Man That I’ve Become,” with its chugging beat, it was easy to imagine Johnny Cash singing it. And in fact, the Man in Black (who was briefly Lowe’s father-in-law many years ago) did record Lowe’s achingly self-critical “The Beast in Me,” in the ’90s.
Introspective as his lyrics can be, though, Lowe’s show was far from a downer. He engaged the audience with his lived-in tenor like the seasoned performer he is, finding subtleties in deceptively simple-sounding material. His guitar playing, while far from flashy, showed exceptional finesse.
A big highlight came in an encore, when opener Ron Sexsmith joined Lowe for a cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “My Baby’s Gone,” with jaw-dropping harmonies tight enough to bring a lump to many a throat.
Lowe explained early in the show that his tour manager had been reaching out to new audiences in booking this first-ever Boulder gig. After Tuesday’s show, let’s hope Lowe makes the Denver area a regular stop in years to come.
R.K. Beegle and John Moore are a regular contributors to Reverb.