[MUSIC – UK]
The Gov, Sun 23 Feb, 2020.
By any measure Nick Lowe is one of the greats. He was in pub rock pioneers Brinsley Schwartz, he recorded an accidental hit song about The Bay City Rollers and was the first signing to legendary UK label Stiff Records. When he wasn’t making his own records there he was producing almost everybody else on the label. He was in a great band with Dave Edmunds called Rockpile and at one stage his father-in-law was Johnny frickin’ Cash! He is the Jesus of Cool. And he has written some (and continues to write) classic songs.
Lowe has toured Australia a bunch of times and his bands are always top notch. Back in the early ‘80s his band included Paul (Ace/Squeeze) Carrack and Martin Belmont (The Rumour). When he was last here and played at Norwood Town Hall, the band included the great Geraint Watkins on keys and support. Lowe plays a lot of different styles and moods and he always makes sure his fellow stage-mates can handle the catalogue. So, as a huge fan of the Mexican Lucidore mask-wearing Los Straitjackets, I knew this was a match made in heaven.
Los Straitjackets are from San Francisco and play twangin’ surf guitar instruments (think Ventures, Dick Dale, etc) and over twenty five years and have released 14 studio albums, eight live albums and a bunch of collaborations PLUS they did the music for cult surf movie Psycho Beach Party. In 2017 they did a whole album of Nick Lowe covers, which lead to a tour together which lead to writing music together, and this weekend lead them to The Gov.
Opening tonight is Nick’s label mate and country/bluegrass singer Jim Lauderdale whose beautiful voice and amiable stories won over the room in double time. His between-song banter was genuine, charming with some humble brags, “This next song I wrote with Mr Elvis Costello…” He said he wants to come back to Australia every year; let’s hope that happens.
Los Straitjackets hit the stage in matching black suits, skivvies and medallions. Each is wearing a distinctive Mexican wresting mask. Mr Lowe is dressed in dark pants, patterned shirt and silver grey hair reminding us he is seventy years old. Nick isn’t messin’ about tonight, bringing out big guns like So It Goes, Ragin’ Eyes and Without Love early in proceedings. His voice is velvet smooth and when he croons the ballad You Inspire Me, from the 1998 album Dig My Mood, it’s both moving and seems impossible that it isn’t a Cole Porter song that Sinatra could’ve sung.
Schting Shtang from Party of One (1990) is rockin’ and upbeat. Early in the set Nick assures it is a pleasure to be back in Adelaide and that we’ll hear “Three bone fide top twenty hits, that even the most disinterested folk who have just popped in for a beer will know.” He is aware of the dread the words “We are going to do one of the new album now” strikes into the hearts of audience, but some of the new songs all 100% killers. Tokyo Bay is terrific.
Nick leaves us in the hands (clutches?) of Los Straitjackets while he “goes out the back to do my accounts’” LS crank up the tempo for a blistering, hilarious, five song set of their own. As soon as they start Kawanga the dancefloor fills up and it seems I’m not the only one who has been waiting a long time to see these guys. They tear up Aerostar, Space Mosquito and The Easybeats’ Friday On My Mind. Itchy Chicken takes their antics up a notch with a drum solo and a chicken solo. Just fantastic!
They play a cruelly brief snipping of (I Love The Sound Of) Breaking Glass for Nick’s return, but it is just a glimpse. Now most of the audience is dancing madly to Half A Boy And Half A Man and Love Starvation. The most frenetic dancefloor action comes with classic Cruel To Be Kind, Heart Of The City and the smashing I Knew The Bride. The Straitjackets return with Sing Sing before Nick joins them for Rockpile’s When I Write The Book and the mass sing-a-long of What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love & Understanding?, which is glorious. The rapturous applause continues so Nick returns solo to play a tender and delicate version of Costello’s Alison.
Some call him Basher, but Nick Lowe will always be The Guv’nor.
4 5 stars