Nick Lowe, Unplugged and Doing Quite Well for His Age

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nick Lowe started off Monday's all-solo, all-acoustic performance at the Birchmere -- the first date of a tour in support of his wonderful and mature new record "At My Age" -- confessing that he'd misplaced his set list and couldn't remember what to play without it.

Perhaps his memory doesn't always serve him well anymore. But Lowe, a fit and happy 58-year-old, spent the subsequent 90 minutes showing that his musical muscles are as toned as ever.

Much of Lowe's fame came from collaborations with some of the finest pop singers ever reared in his British homeland or anywhere else. To name two: Elvis (Costello) and Dave Edmunds.

But with no band behind him and in this unplugged format, Lowe's voice and phrasing were fabulous to a revelatory degree. On both the new "People Change" and the old "What's Shakin' on the Hill," Lowe showed off a sultry, Johnny Mathis-like croon. During "All Men Are Liars," a clever dose of vitriol from 1990, his normally trebly tenor swung real low, a la Elvis (Presley).

Though remembered most fondly for his pub rock past, Lowe provided a reminder that he's long been comfy with American country music with "The Beast in Me," which was written for and recorded by Lowe's former father-in-law, Johnny Cash. The binge-drinking chronicle "Lately I've Let Things Slide" seems ever-ready for George Jones.

Some of Lowe's rockingest material loses something in a solo acoustic delivery: "Heart of the City," wondrous as its two chords are, and the Chuck Berry-ish shuffle, "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)," need a drummer to retain their power.

But then there was the set-ender, a slow and somber rendition of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," which he wrote and famously handed over to a young Elvis (Costello). Costello's single once got young fans to clench their fists in rage. Nearly three decades later, Lowe's version can make those same folks cry and feel helpless. Songs, or concerts, really don't get much better than this.

-- Dave McKenna

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