Nick Lowe Charms the NPR Crowd at Great American Music Hall

Categories: Last Night

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Nick Lowe at Great American Music Hall last night

Nick Lowe
J.D. McPherson
Oct. 10, 2011
The Great American Music Hall

Better than: What Lou Reed has chosen to do with his later career, by far.

Although many original punk and new wave musicians delved into American and roots rock later in their career (John Doe, Peter Case, Elvis Costello), Nick Lowe approaches it with a decidedly English inflection and pop sensibility that sets him far ahead of his peers. Lowe has been honing his mellow acoustic pop over his last four albums -- since about the turn of the century -- and last night, he delivered a stellar performance at Great American Music Hall, even if it was mostly lost on the oblivious crowd.

Arriving early did not ensure a decent view of the stage, particularly since the post-yuppie concertgoers seemed to feel entitled to twice the space of a normal person, and the show was strictly seated. Early arrivers who were inclined to pay for some of the Great American's food secured all of the decent seats, but at least they were easy enough to peer over. The crowd appeared to be comprised of aging NPR listeners with slightly better taste than the majority of their demographic.

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​Lowe was laden in black. His coal-colored pants, shirt, and the frames of his glasses were in stark contrast with his white hair, pale complexion, and sly smile. That duality characterizes much of his output. After all, some of his most pure pop songs deal with murder and mutilation. This tradition of extreme juxtaposition is continued in his recent songs and makes his performance all the more compelling.

Throughout the set, Lowe's charismatic delivery endeared him to the crowd. His stage banter is elegant, calculated, and deceivingly casual. Journeymen performers such as Lowe have toiled over their stage presence, and Lowe has carefully honed his delicate amiability to a pinnacle.

The set drew largely from his recent material, although he delivered poignant versions of his old tunes "Cruel To Be Kind," "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding," and a pleasant rendition of "Alison," penned by his long-time collaborator Elvis Costello, whom he performed with at last year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. "Cruel To Be Kind" was the only tune that elicited a mild reaction from the crowd. The mezzanine nearly erupted into a dance floor, but when the first couple to begin shaking their hips nearly fell over, the other attendees settled back into their chairs.

Given his firm credentials as a power-pop songwriter and producer of various punk and new wave groups, it is no surprise that Lowe's song-crafting prowess shines, despite his radical shift in genre since the '70s. But considering his urgent and raw recording aesthetic, the genre switch seems much less surprising, since Americana and early rock 'n' roll convey the gritty atmosphere Lowe strove for as a producer.

Despite the older crowd and the sterile, seated atmosphere, Nick Lowe's set was refreshingly unpretentious. He exhibited the confidence of an accomplished performer in a position to produce exactly what type of music he pleases, without feeling the need to appease or compromise, and luckily his musical inclinations today lead to songs as compelling and accessible as his better known recordings in the '70s.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I preordered the recent, extremely expensive YepRoc Records vinyl reissues of Nick Lowe's early records with an intense fan boy fury.

Overheard: "I was torn between this and my weekly wine tasting."

Most unnerving people to sit behind: A couple in their mid-'50s sitting for the entire concert without looking at, speaking to, or acknowledging one another or anyone else around them. They were completely catatonic -- motionless and stoic.

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Location Info

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Great American Music Hall

859 O'Farrell, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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9 comments
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DSB
DSB

"I didn't want to become one of those thinning-haired, jowly old geezers who still does the same shtick they did when they were young, slim and beautiful," - Nick Lowe via New York Daily News in 2007

The reviewer sounds as though they expected to see Nick, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremer and Terry Williams inviting Roert Plant onstage - " ...'lil sis". I haven't seen Nick do one of those performances since I same him in a bar show in the mid-1990's. As the quote above makes clear, Nick has gradually moved his "shtick" over the past couple decades. He was setting up the shift many, many years ago.

In a January 1995 Fresh Air interview, Terry Gross asks Nick to perform a song his fans might be surprised is one of his favorites. Nick sang, "Many a tear has to fall, but it's all in the game ..." A 1911 melody by Charles Dawes (Vice President of the United States under Coolidge), which was a number 1 hit for Tommy Edwards in 1958 - It's All In the Game. One of the truly great American pop songs of all time. [Did you pick up on the sarcasm with the NPR reference - or were you "oblivious" to it?]

This was a solo acoustic performance. Did you expect people to dance and sing-along with The Beast In Me, Stoplight Roses, etc.? As a reviewer you couldn't have been that oblivious to where Nick had taken his shtick.

catatonic you say?
catatonic you say?

What you consider "catatonic" may actually be reverence. Mr. Lowe has certainly honed his stage presence over the decades I have seen him in concert. But the aspect of his performances I enjoy the most is his vocalization - how he hits the word "stuff" in House For Sale, the phrasing in Rome Wasn't Built In A Day. With Lowe it is all about the nuance - in his lyrics, his vocals and mannerisms. A Nick Lowe concert for me is not about people dancing around me, singing his songs in untrained voices and food & drink.

I have seen him 3 times over the past four-years and I think this concert was the most fun I have seen him have. He is a joy to watch - if you want to dance to an old guy singing go to a Rolling Stones concert. The dancing will distract from a group long past their sell by date.

As for songs from "the old magic" I count at least 4 - Stoplight Roses, House For Sale, Sensitive Man and Somebody Cares For Me. What did I miss?

Guest @ GAMH
Guest @ GAMH

I was also upstairs in the balcony - right next to where your second photo was taken.  I thought the crowd was great and it was a virtual sing-a-long (especially during 'All Men Are Liars').  And, for the record, he only played two songs from his recent release - so, you should clarify that most of what he played was 'recent' as in solo-records-post-2000.   This was the fifth time I've seen Nick Lowe and I can tell it was consistent with all previous performances....great!

Wayne
Wayne

Please review the show.

Howard
Howard

I think his depiction of the crowd is pretty funny. It's presumptuous, but there is some truth in most generalizations, and this was obviously written to elicit some annoyed responses.. The review seems really positive and insightful about Nick Lowe's actual performance. Most of the review is not about the crowd...

Donald Quixote
Donald Quixote

You're a snob dude.  I thought people were listening quite attentively and quite responsive to the great songwriting, vocal skill and quiet approach.  Nick Lowe didn't want the crowd standing up.  He wanted them to listen.  Bruce Springsteen did the same thing back in 1995

Jules Kragen
Jules Kragen

Were you at the same show that I was at?  I was seated in the upstairs and around me it was a virtual sing along.  The crowd couldn't have been more adoring.

The show was refreshing.  There is something wonderful about the sense of wry humor that the brits seem to have nailed.  Great fun.  Glad you understood that.But what is all of this ageist stuff in your review?  People of any age can be catatonic, many are often young and stoned.  I purchased Pure Pop For Now People when it came out and have been following him since.  Nick is in his 60's, so are many of his fans.  We cut our teeth on Elvis Costello, Talking Heads and smaller acts like Nick and Graham Parker who is playing next month at Freight and Salvage and had a great time doing it.  Stop being so dismissive of the generation that was there.  Frankly if Nick was depending upon young people to fill the hall it would have been empty and he could have gone home.

And finally, I saw Ry Cooder a month a ago at GAMH and the seats, which were not out that night, were enjoyed by many of us, especially with the lack of AC in the building.

Mat
Mat

Haha, its funny how two people at a show can have such different experiences.  I arrived late not realizing that the doors opened at 7pm and not 8pm as I had thought.  I managed to snag a great seat front and center just before Nick started.  The crowd was definitely older, but there was also a lot of younger people around us.  The couple behind me started ferociously making out at the end of his set (and they were older).  But it sounds like all and all you appreciated the greatness of what Nick had to offer.  What a legend Nick is!

tgp
tgp

The generalizations in this review run rampant over real thought provoking objective, or for that matter subjective, ideas. Nick is much more than an NPR staple. I have followed Nick for 30+  years and listen to NPR seldom. Also, Nick and Elvis did not play together at last year's HSBG - they played together the night before at the GAMH (Elvis sings Nick and Lowe sings Costello). Maybe a novice would think the only song to elicit a reaction was the one he recognized, but the crowd was much more savvy than that. Nick was just amazing as usual. He made connections with the audience in ways few performers can, little quips, winks and chuckles which seemed to highlight the humor in his lyrics.

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