A theater full of enthusiastic people willing to forgo Sunday night football were treated to a performance by the great Nick Lowe on Sunday as he kicked off Landmark’s Roots Rock series.
Opening for Lowe was Jim Keller. As one of the founders and lead guitarist for the band Tommy Tutone, Keller was responsible for co-writing the infamous “867-5309/Jenny.” (You’re humming it in your head now, aren’t you?)
For this Landmark performance, Keller was simply singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and was accompanied on electric guitar and vocal backup by Scott Metzger. Keller performed a mix of songs, including some from his two albums. Keller was vaguely reminiscent of Graham Parker, and his music spanned several genres including blues, rock and roll, pop and a little hint of country. Two especially notable numbers were “Julianne” from Keller’s most recent CD, which channeled a little Southside Johnny, and the lovely “A Girl Like You,” with a tasty guitar solo by Metzger on Fender Telecaster. Keller took Hank Snow’s “90 Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street)” and made it his own – changing it from a fast country tune to a pensive ballad. The duo closed with the bluesy “Sweet Lorraine,” also from Keller’s latest release. As opening acts go, Keller, accompanied by Metzger, was one of the best I’ve seen.
In 1979, as a 15-year old, I bought Nick Lowe’s “Labour of Lust” album (on vinyl) which included his biggest hit, “Cruel to be Kind.” I wore the record out from playing it incessantly, and wondered how Nick Lowe had fared after 30-something years. The answer – wonderfully!
With a shock of white hair, and black-rimmed glasses, the trim Lowe has aged gracefully and sounds better than ever. Lowe is a consummate performer, a crowd pleaser. With the stereotypical dry British wit combined with self-deprecating humor and a good dose of charm, Lowe engaged the audience with perfect two-minute bits of pop perfection interspersed with entertaining stories. Yes, Nick Lowe is the master, the King, really, of the two-minute pop song. Aside from writing for himself, Lowe has written songs covered by Elvis Costello (who he also produced), Dave Edmunds, and even Johnny Cash (Lowe was married to Cash’s stepdaughter, the daughter of June Carter). One can’t really pin down Lowe’s style – he’s everything from rockabilly to pop to crooner.
Although it was just Lowe and an acoustic guitar, he filled the venue with sound. My concert companion likened Lowe to “a British Buddy Holly with a touch of Paul McCartney” and she was right on. With a catalogue that spans over four decades, Lowe said that he has “songs old enough to buy condos in Phoenix, Arizona.” Among the songs he played from his new album were the beautiful “Stoplight Roses,” “Sensitive Man,” “Someone Cares for Me,” and “I Read a Lot” – a song he described as being “fraught with danger” because it had “more than three chords.”
To the delight of the audience, he played “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” “When I Write the Book” (from his time with the band Rockpile), and “Cruel to be Kind.” Regarding “Cruel to be Kind” Lowe said that while some performers resent having to play the hit that made them famous, he still enjoys singing it. It showed.
Lowe closed with two sets of encores. The first included a beautifully stripped-down version of “What’s So Funny Bout (Peace, Love and Understanding),” a Nick Lowe song made famous by Elvis Costello. In an interesting twist, Lowe’s final encore was written by Elvis Costello – the heart-wrenching “Allison,” from Costello’s first album – My Aim is True – which was produced by… Nick Lowe.
This stellar performance was the perfect start of Landmark’s Roots Rock series, which will continue on November 9th with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. For ticket information, visit www.landmarkonmainstreet.org