Pop review: Nick Lowe

Palladium, London

It's more than 30 years since Nick Lowe started plying his trade with Brinsley Schwarz, and his recent solo album, The Convincer, was his 11th. So perhaps it's no wonder that the tall, silver-haired singer-songwriter treats performing as if it were no more demanding than taking the dog for a walk.

Naturally, Lowe isn't as artless as he appears. Following a bantering introduction from Robert Elms, who hailed him as if he were a 90-year-old bluesman miraculously rediscovered in deepest Alabama, Lowe ambled out with his acoustic guitar and began singing: "There never will be any peace until God is at the conference table." Despite his affable delivery, there was no mistaking the pointed relevance of the sentiment.

Thenceforth, the set was a brisk jog through his back catalogue, with selected highlights from The Convincer mixed in. Lowe does a particularly good line in songs about how he is falling apart on account of some romantic crisis or other. Lately I've Let Things Slide is a case in point; Lowe sang its catalogue of domestic disintegration - "I go to the bin, I throw the laundry in and pick out the cleanest shirt" - solo and unadorned. By the time he reached I'm a Mess - "I'm a mess, I'm a wreck, I'm really on the deck" - he had been joined by his trio of backing musicians, who supported him with the kind of unfussy precision you usually find only in places such as Nashville or Los Angeles. This lot come from no further afield than Wales.

Lowe's favourite musical roots have always been soul, country and rock'n'roll, all of which give him ample scope for his deadpan way with a lyric. Indian Queens, from the new album, is one of his finest, a rambling saga that finds the narrator embroiled in colourful adventures all over the Americas, before finally heading homeward. Lowe also dusted off I Knew the Bride (his cheeky rewrite of Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell, and a hit for Dave Edmunds in 1977), and he switched to bass to pump some extra wallop into Cruel To Be Kind.

If there's a downside to a Lowe performance, it's that he can be almost too relaxed, delivering his songs as if he were leaning against a bar nursing a pint of Old Peculiar. You sometimes wish he would squeeze out some extra angst or crank up the drama. The closest he came to revealing an abyss in his soul was a solo rendition of The Beast in Me, which made such a thunderously dark vehicle for his former father-in-law Johnny Cash. Even here, Lowe managed to summon the ghost of a smile. It's just the way he is.


Adam Sweeting

The GuardianTramp

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