Facing Stiff competition tonight from Gareth Liddiard, Electrolane and Aleks and the Ramps, the audience drawn to the Forum is one of the smallest, oldest and most myopic audiences the venue has ever seen. With a curtain sectioning the front third of the venue, and the 100+ crowd happily chattering, it’s without a word of introduction that Nick Lowe, sporting a Gibson Jumbo, a thick thatch of white hair and Buddy Holly glasses, strides to the microphone. 'You practiced and rehearsed it / But in your heart, you know it’s too late' he sonorously intones, as he pulls the tarp off a heartbreakingly version of ‘Stoplight Roses’.
Lowe’s phenomenal lyrics, lingered on with a sincerity and touch of slap-back reverb that reinforces his selection of spectacles are, if possible, even more acidic and evocative now than in his heyday. “Sales are up,” he says drily of his latest album The Old Magic. “They could be up-per. Influential dudes on the radio have been saying nice things about it’, he says of famously Lowe-obsessed film critic Mark Kermode before deadpanning “You know, if you cut me open you'll find one word written through me like a rock: ‘quality entertainment’.”
And he’s not wrong. Continuing apace with Heart from his revered 70s band Rockpile and the searing What a Lack of Love Has Done, his easy appropriation of 50s rock, country music and pop is at once derivative, but used in a wholly original way. The artful mundanity of I Let Things Slide and the euphoric harmonies of Raging Eyes highlight the strength not only the lyrical prowess, but also the setting of the song. He favours sparse instrumentation from his adept backing band, though the occasional bright noodling from guitarist Johnny Scott sets instrumental passages alight. Occasional dips into his past are rewarded with cheers from the entranced audience. His biggest hit Cruel to be Kind seems to break the rules of songwriting with its dangerous mix of disco and country, I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll) mixes 12-bar blues and pop nous and still sounds as timeless as it did on its release.
Looking like a cross between Gary Oldman and Colonel Sanders, Lowe pauses to announce: “Now is the time to break out the sandwiches and thermos!” before introducing the band and leading them into I Read A Lot another deft account of being 60.
Keyboardist Geraint Watkins is invited to play the first encore Lowe is cheered back for, and his Only A Rose threatens to steal the night so unexpected is his emotive voice and so powerful the song’s emptiness. When I Write the Book and a gossamer-light version of What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace Love and Understanding? bring the audience to their feet. Bellowing and stamping eventually brings Lowe back for a second and final encore (“I’m quite moved!” he smiles), where he silences us all with his stunning take on a song he produced, Elvis Costello’s Alison.
In this mixed up word of slash genres, irony and cash-driven collaborations, Simple, unfussy pop tunes, and a masterclass in showmanship is more than welcome.