LIVE: Nick Lowe @ Club Helsinki, 8/21/13
Review by Bokonon
How hip is Hudson?
Hip enough that last Wednesday evening, Club Helsinki, in August 2013, felt more like the Stiff Records office in London in the summer of 1977.
Nick Lowe was performing, sure. But Graham Parker, Wreckless Eric Goulden and half the Rumour were in the crowd. There was no onstage action, just Lowe solo, but a photo floating around Facebook offers proof of a dressing room summit as evidence.
Perhaps Lowe didn’t invite his old mates onstage for the simple reason that he doesn’t need any help. At 64, Lowe is supremely comfortable with his geezerhood and, remarkably, writing the best songs of his career. It’s hard to call 1998’s Dig My Mood a comeback, because Lowe never went away. But that record did mark a turn in tone that continues to this day — hushed, Eurocentric roots tunes that merge Eddy Arnold with Jacques Brel. The stuff is like candy.
A jam-packed house at Helsinki — virtually as gray as Lowe — ate it up. Songs of heartache, love and loss for adults. Even older tunes such as “Heart,” “I Live On a Battlefield” and “Ragin’ Eyes” pass through Lowe’s late-in-life filter, coming out celebratory and poignant at both ends.
Lowe, for much of his career, was better known as a producer, helming discs by the likes of Parker, Goulden, the Damned and Elvis Costello. But more than most mere mortals, Lowe understands the power of the song. When he plays live there is no frippery (Robert or otherwise). He kicks off with a gentle strum, and he’s in the song. No hot licks, noodling or jazz. When he actually knocked out a simple chord intro for the ageless hit “Cruel to Be Kind,” it was as explosive as a flashpot.
For years, he’s assayed “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” as folk ballad. Same in Hudson, but somehow, it was the richest I’ve seen in nearly a dozen shows. On the other side, “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” was anemic, a pale version of a wedding band classic.
As at The Egg last fall, he encored with Elvis’ “Alison,” which he owns every bit as much as Mr. MacManus. Just-freaking-killer. Forget the Jesus of Cool; call him the Jesus of Hip.