|Nick Lowe performs at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on Monday April 23, 2012. Longtime British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe is touring behind his new album The Old Magic. The singer is best known for his hits "Cruel To Be Kind" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding" which was covered by Elvis Costello. (Ernest Doroszuk/QMI AGENCY)
While Elvis Costello played to a large crowd last week north of Toronto, fellow British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe was content with a smaller, seated audience Monday night downtown at the Phoenix Concert Theatre.
But as has been the case with his lengthy career, it's high quality and not quantity for Lowe, something that was in spades over his 22-song, 90-minute set before a few hundred admirers.
Often referred to as “Jesus Of Cool” and having opened last year for Wilco at Massey Hall, Lowe and his seasoned four-piece group shone with a refreshing style that harkened back to '50s rock and roll and '60s soul, the latter exemplified on Sensitive Man and House
For Sale which Lowe said “found favor in Belgium.” Combine that with Lowe's simple but simultaneously elegant turning of phrase and you realize why so many have been influenced by the 63-year-old musician.
Wearing thick black-rimmed Buddy Holly-like spectacles and a white short sleeve shirt matching his ivory mane, Lowe brought some of that old magic to life with Stoplight Roses and Heart, both old-school pop songs with the latter recalling the Everly Brothers as he briefly became a human beat box.
Welcoming the crowd and introducing himself, Lowe apologized for the venue change, adding fans might have had to do some “very fancy driving” cross town to get here. Promising “quality entertainment” and stating the response regarding new songs was “nothing short of ecstatic,” Lowe's four-piece group (including one playing the upright bass) emerged for the charming, soulful What Lack Of Love Has Done and a swinging rocker Ragin' Eyes.
Strumming an acoustic guitar for the entire night, Lowe had the crowd rapt with almost every selection. The bluesy groove of I Trained Her To Love Me was fully fleshed out while traces of Johnny Cash emerged from Has She Got A Friend? And when you can make a song with lyrics about laundry and a clean shirt sound priceless, as Lowe did with Lately I've Let Things Slide, you know you've picked the right vocation.
The first big highlight was Cruel To Be Kind, a Lowe warhorse that still packs a punch despite being churned out at a slower pace compared to the album version. Yet it was that reworking of a song that made (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding such a standout on this night. Performed as a polar opposite to Elvis Costello's thunderous, punk approach, Lowe delivered the classic in a hushed, almost hymnal tone.
With the brilliant boogie-woogie work emanating from keyboardist Geraint Watkins on the Fats Domino-leaning Somebody Cares For Me and the infectious I Knew The Bride, Lowe's four-song encore included When I Write The Book and the shuffling Tokyo Bay that had fans up and dancing at the front of the stage.
Ending the night as he opened alone onstage, Lowe churned out Alison, the Costello gem Lowe produced and that still works so well. Well, almost as well as Nick Lowe.
What Lack Of Love Has Done
Lately I've Let Things Slide
Has She Got A Friend?
I Trained Her To Love Me
I Live On A Battlefield
I Read A Lot
Cruel To Be Kind
Somebody Cares For Me
House For Sale
Tower Of Strength
I Knew The Bridge
When I Write The Book
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding
Go Way Hound Dog