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Nick Lowe
born March 24, 1949

Farcical Swagger

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Nick Lowe solo acoustic 2019: custom playlist

When Nick Lowe played a delirious solo acoustic show at Emerson College in November of 2019, I didn’t realize at the time it would be one of the last live concerts I’d see in two years. But I do think the reason it’s stayed with me has more to do with his stature and charisma than COVID...

THE MYTH ABOUT NICK LOWE hinges on his Mr. Goofball persona, all pop-friendly pranks and what-me-worry smirks.”Insouciant,” Robert Christgau once wrote of him. “Maybe too insouciant.” The joke's on us: as this mostly post-2000 material setlist demonstrated, he’s gone next-level as a writer, and mastered adult themes with increasing rue ("The Man That I've Become," "Lately, I've Let Things Slide").

I had seen Lowe a couple years before, fronting Los Straitjackets with their gonzo Mexican professional wrestling masks, and he gave them a spark their own set lacked. It was all in the gentlemanly dash of his thick white hair, his Buddy Holly glasses, and stage manner that said he felt lucky not just to be alive, but still getting away with this stuff. 

But you don’t experiment that well unless you’re so steeped in the genre you know all the tricks that make it sound easy. 

At Emerson, he closed with a stark remake of (”What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which had you rethinking the song’s paradoxes (a salute to Woodstock clichés? Cynical retreat? Both?) And then he played Costello’s “Alison,” and the crowd sighed in recognition. While magnanimous (Costello’s long since lapped me as a writer, he seemed to imply), its humility gave Lowe even greater stature. He’s never worn a hat on stage. 

His reverence for form acquires mystical qualities. A late-period number like “Blue on Blue” meanders around and never really lands, it’s like a lover turning over a feeling he can't measure, a series of cadences in search of a pop song. But you don’t experiment that well unless you’re so steeped in the genre you know all the tricks that make it sound easy. Lowe has a vast, seasoned grasp of pop history that goes down as sheer pleasure. 

Kerfuffle of the Month: another reason not to get into it on Twitter, calling this album a "non-major" favorite. So let's dive in: who's idea of major? Consider 1968's peers: the White Album, Beggar's Banquet, John Wesley Harding... in that category? How many pick it as their BEST album overall? Which critics support this argument? Obviously, facetious questions... but point to why the Kinks spiky yet inconsistent catalog tempts the argument. While they remain underrated, part of their charm lies in the impulse to overrate them. 

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Somehow, though, knowing “Big Big Love” wasn’t a Lowe original only made its hallowed encore status more playful, and more knowing... 
...Lowe did a feisty, high-torque remake of Edmunds’s “I Knew the Bride,” in order to appease Columbia, his giant record company. It’s a feast of a record, with a cut-up video featuring Carlene Carter. Another keeper, “Half a Boy and Half a Man,” went nowhere (although it still pegs Michael Jackson too perfectly: “When his fingers do the walking / In the middle of the night / You’d better run / You’d better hide”). Failure rarely sounds so much like success... (read more in the Los Angeles Review of Books)

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