The essence of cool -- and wit, for that matter -- is to make it all look effortless. That's Nick Lowe in a nutshell. If you don't know this sardonic songwriter, get thee to a music store tout de suite! We happy few who saw him at the Linda Wednesday night will no doubt carry that concert around in our heads for a very long time, "and gentlemen in England now-a-bed / Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here." As Gene said, "I've never seen anyone so at one with a guitar."
This was our first visit to the Linda. It's a great little venue which looks like it might have been a bank once. Gene was cheered to find a basket full of free chocolate. I was amazed to wind my way downstairs to the restrooms and find a line for the men's room. Every woman who came down the stairs gaped in amazement. Already the night was memorable. The guy at the door teased us by asking whether our parents knew we were out; we were on the young end of the scale for the audience. Gene remarked (not without cause) that they got away with fewer lights in the auditorium because of the shine from all the bald pates. The sound in the hall was terrific despite its unorthodox shape.
The show opened with an energetic solo set from Eli "Paperboy" Reed. The Boston boy came out in a grey suit and French cuffs to wail away enthusiastically. He has studied his Wilson Pickett well. During his second song technical problems hit: the microphone started twirling around and his guitar strap came unhooked. He hardly skipped a beat and finished the song. The audience was impressed and let their approval be known. His music had a retro appeal and bouncy tunes, so a lot of people stopped by the table to pick up cds and chat.
After a brief break, it was time for the headliner. Lowe (who had been watching Reed's set from the side of the stage, casual as can be) walked up on stage with his guitar and launched into "People Change," a song from the latest album. It was clear that the audience already knew all the new songs and greeted this one enthusiastically. Gene tried to snap a picture with his Treo, but the combination of the backlighting, Lowe's snow-white hair and crisp white shirt resulted in a kind of blob of light. With a huge back catalogue, it was hard to guess what Lowe might play (not "Mary Provost" alas) but the audience was eager for every tune. I'm sure there was probably a set list, but Lowe seemed to meander at random from the old to the new, chatting occasionally to the audience between numbers. After the back to back snarkiness of "All Men are Liars" and "I Trained Her to Love Me" he recalled his last visit to Albany ages ago, "when I was in a rock band, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" and where they found everything they wanted, "some of which required a visit to the doctor afterward" he added. I cast my mind back to remember the last time I saw Lowe. He was appearing with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner as Little Village in Boston at the Orpheum: was it really 1992?!
Although pleased that the audience already knew all the new songs, Lowe explained this was bad news for the merchandise table, "you must already have the cd." He mentioned the re-release of The Jesus of Cool by Yep Roc records. Worried that he was beginning to sound like an advertisement, Lowe told the audience to think of it as a news report instead. Yep Roc will be releasing more of his back catalogue with extras -- good news indeed.
Lowe played a wide variety of songs from the old to the new, including a brand new song, "I Read a Lot" which he introduced somewhat deprecatingly, saying that there were two reactions to those words, "new song": some who will say "I can't wait, is there no end to this man's genius?" and the rest who'll go out in the lobby and wait for the hits. "The good thing is none of my songs lasts more than two and half minutes so you won't have to wait long," Lowe assured us. I don't think anyone left.
He apologized that his voice was a bit croaky before singing "Shelley My Love," one of his rare songs that focuses more on vocal stretching than linguistic, but the roughness only added charm. Ravers like "7 Nights to Rock," "Cruel to be Kind," "Heart of the City" and "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock-n-Roll" were greeted with obvious delight, but quieter numbers held the audience spellbound, too. These included big favorites of mine like "Heart" and "The Beast in Me." The most amazing song of the set is the one he chose to end with: an utterly entrancing version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" It was followed by thunderous applause (and encores).
The good news is that the show was recorded and will be playing this fall on WAMC. We'll keep an eye out for it and let you all know when it airs if we can (you can listen on line).
For a briefer review, visit the Times Union review here.