Nick Lowe, The Musical Instrument Museum, 10/1/12

Nick Lowe @ The Musical Instrument Museum|10/1/12
If the tag "The Jesus of Cool" strikes you as hyperbolic or overblown, you've never watched 63-year-old Nick Lowe strut onto the stage, strap on his big Gibson J-200, and proceed to crack jokes and break hearts for 90 minutes.

Lowe, with his easy English wit and consummate songwriter credentials, is an easy guy to love. He's the kind of songwriter who can smooth out the wrinkles between puppy love cuts like "She's Got Soul" and the biting cruelty of "I Trained Her to Love Me," the kind of guy who crack jokes about "the backstage deli tray" in Denver having more life than the audience, only to admit seconds later that the Denver audience was great, and that it was just a sneaky performer trick to get us on his side.

"I've learned a few tricks," Lowe said with a grin.

See also: Nick Lowe Discusses Crafting "Swinging" Pop in His 60s See also: Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust Reissued At Last See also: Nick Lowe @ Rhythm Room, October, 7, 2008

The tricks are only the essential ones, really. Lowe cited Phoenix as the stomping grounds of some of his musical heroes (Lee Hazlewood, Duane Eddy, Dyke and The Blazers), and noted with real warmth that it was good to be back. The crowd responded to his demure croon the way you might expect them to react to his old, "Basher"-style stuff on Stiff Records, hooting and hollering.

"Play all night," one audience member shouted, to which Lowe steely replied, "You must be crazy."

The playful banter continued all night, about Diana Ross' version of his song "I Live on a Battlefield," which Lowe stated was "not her finest hour." He discussed her shining moment, though, explaining his admiration for "You Can't Hurry Love" before noting that her take on his song "bought him a new bathroom."

Lowe likes to draw the lines between his old days and the new. "I feel as if I've sort of had two careers, one that lasted 'til the end of the '80s, and one that sort of kicked off around the end of the '90s," he explained during our interview. "The new people don't really know much about Rockpile and all that business." But live, the lack of difference between those world was made clear: "Lately I've Let Things Slide" is as lowdown and beat as any Stiff single, even if Lowe's hushed delivery differs from those cranked amps of yore.

Lowe mixed in a few numbers from his most recent, a swinging effort called The Old Magic: "I Read A Lot," the album's most accomplished heartbreaker, had the mostly-full theater in a lulled silence. It's the kind of song that you could hear Sinatra, or or Johnny Cash covering, a classic kind of thing that's got such good bones an artist could really put their own stamp on it, while "Sensitive Man," with its dry wit and cunning, could really only come from Lowe's mouth (and if you can find me another artist who can get away with saying "dinky-doo," I'll buy the discography).

Lowe remarked he still loved playing "Cruel to Be Kind" after finishing the song to rapturous response, though the moment was actual topped by his first encore and its inclusion of "When I Write the Book." The crowd cheered for more, and Lowe obliged with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," a massive hit for Lowe's friend and collaborator Elvis Costello. He took some time with one of Costello's hits to finish things off, performing "Alison" from Costello's Lowe-produced debut, My Aim Is True. It was gorgeous, with Lowe playing worn and resigned whereas Costello played bitter and hurt.

Guess it's just one of those tricks, eh?

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Nick Lowe at the Musical Instrument Museum The Crowd: Silver foxes and foxies for the most part, the kind of folks Lowe said seemed to know him best from his "Rockpile days." So Classy: They called the break between opener Eleni Mandell's set and Lowe's an "intermission," which gave me just enough time to share a Coney Island Freaktoberfest with my lady (we had to chug it), use the restroom, and genuflect to the "Jesus of Cool" with Serene Dominic. Oh, About Eleni Mandell's Set: Beautiful voice, and lovely, wry, funny songs, though I'd love to hear her in a dark bar next time. Nick at Nite: For the lucky few who lingered in the lobby after the show -- and I mean lingered for a good long time -- Lowe came out and signed records and explained his middle name. Really!


"Stoplight Roses" "Heart" "What's Shaking on the Hill" "Long Limbed Girl" "Lately I've Let Things Slide" "She's Got Soul" "I Trained Her to Love Me" "I Live on a Battlefield" "I Read a Lot" "Cruel to Be Kind" "Raining Raining" "Crying Inside" "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" "Sensitive Man" "Somebody Cares for Me" "House for Sale" "Without Love" "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll)"

Encore: "When I Write the Book" "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" "Tokyo Bay"

Encore #2: "Alison" (Elvis Costello)

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.