Live review: Nick Lowe, Visulite Theatre (12/3/2015)

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Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets
Visulite Theatre
Dec. 3, 2015
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After a trio of tunes, including the luminous “People Change”, performed solo on acoustic guitar, Nick Lowe made a promise to the Visulite Theatre crowd: “We have a funny, funky show for you.”

Credit the amiable and dapper tunesmith with truth in advertising. After a jaunty ramble through “A Dollar Short of Happy,” the luchadores arrived to augment Lowe’s catchy brand of pop ‘n roll. Dressed in snappy suits and their customary Mexican wrestling masks, surf guitar slingers Los Straijackets backed Lowe on a rockin’, rubbery version of “Winter Wonderland.” 

It only got weirder and more wonderful after that. Thundering drums and duel cascading tremolo guitars snaked through the rambunctious Chet Atkins-styled shuffle “Raging Eyes,” a winsome and welcoming “Christmas at the Airport” and other gems from Lowe’s and his former band Rockpile’s catalog.

Threaded through the holiday themed extravaganza were “some carefully selected toe-tappers” - Lowe’s words, not mine. Stand outs among those boppin’ rockers were the loose-limbed lament “Not Too Long Ago,” delivered with verve, reverb and passion, and a snappy yet silken “Cruel to be Kind.” 

The crowd went crazy on “Cruel,” perhaps Lowe’s best-loved song. “It’s still a good tune, isn’t it?” Lowe queried with a mischievous grin.

Throughout the evening, frontman and backing band proved to be the perfect oddball coalition, a marriage of Lowe’s Roots/New Wavey groove and jangle and Los Straitjackets rocketing rockabilly twang. Lowe left the stage to his musical compadres for a score of exuberant instrumentals, including a surf “Sleigh Ride,” a muscular ska arrangement of Linus and Lucy’s theme from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and “Casbah,” a choreographed bit of Martin Denny-style exotica where bassist Pete Curry and guitarists Greg Townson and Eddie Angel bopped like animated Egyptian tomb paintings.

During a Burundi-beat “Breaking Glass”, Lowe ambled back onstage to rejoin the band for a brace of tunes, highlighted by a swinging, crackling take on Dave Edmund’s “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll).”

Though that seemed hard to top, Lowe seemed unfazed. He saved the best for last in an encore capped by “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” Los Straitjackets stripped back their engaging gimmickry to allow the heartfelt song and its spare dynamics to shine. In a voice grainy, smooth, and at this point in his life, vulnerable with age, Lowe crooned perhaps his finest tune. In these times of stress and turmoil, it was the perfect message – for the holidays and every day.

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