Nick Lowe featuring Los Straitjackets – Live Review – Pocklington Arts Centre
By James Robinson, July 2019
‘We’ve got something for everyone tonight,’ announces Nick Lowe during the introduction to this evening’s performance of his Quality Rock & Roll Revue, ‘including two guaranteed smash hits – maybe even three, depending on your definition of the word “smash.”’
It’s a typically droll and self-deprecating statement from the legendary musician, whose career has seen him work with and feted by such mega-stars as Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, because on their own terms, all of his songs should be considered hits. Few songwriters have Lowe’s facility for beautifully structured and melodic pop music. That his originals blend seamlessly with the vintage covers that also pepper the set is tantamount to their quality.
Nevertheless, for those counting, his best-known tracks, ‘Cruel to Be Kind’, ‘So It Goes’ and ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ all get an airing – and all sound fabulous. At 70 years old, and in dark-rimmed glasses, neatly combed white hair and sensible trousers, Lowe looks every inch the wise old gentleman, but he dances about the stage like a man half his age. His voice for the most part is still smooth and clear – there’s little sign of the croak that afflicts many singers of his age – and what occasional hoarseness it does betray adds a depth well suited to his slower, Sam Cooke-inflected numbers like ‘You Inspire Me’.
Lending a striking visual impact is Lowe’s backing band Los Straitjackets, who saunter onto the stage in all-black suits and Mexican wrestling masks. The Straitjackets specialise in fuzzy surf-rock guitars and stomping drums that manage to bring a foot-tapping energy to this all-seated gig, which is no easy feat.
Half way through the set Lowe leaves the stage ‘to take a bath or maybe do some washing,’ leaving his band to demonstrate their panache with rockabilly instrumentals. They run-through an offbeat set-list featuring inspired re-imaginings of Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and Lowe’s own ‘I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass’, occasionally bantering with each other in not-entirely convincing Spanish. They also indulge in some Shadows-style choreography, falling into step and waving their guitars about like machine guns – much to the audience’s obvious delight, as phones emerge above dozens of heads to capture the action.
Compared to some of the other dates on his UK tour – including this year’s Glastonbury festival – the 200-seater Pocklingon Arts Centre is a decidedly low-key venue, but a wonderfully intimate environment to see such a distinguished performer, the handsomely restored interior of this former cinema providing a fittingly old-school backdrop.
Lowe, with the élan that can only come with 50 years’ practice in the business, works the small but sell-out crowd like he was playing to an auditorium ten times its size. He even throws in a jokey reference to local B&B the Feathers Hotel during ‘I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll’. When he leaves the stage for the last time, following an all-too-brief encore, he receives a standing ovation; even if he does claim to only have up to three smash hits, it’s the least he deserves.