Sometimes all a show needs is a nice guitar, a smooth voice and a pile of good songs. That’s what Nick Lowe brought to Knuckleheads on Thursday night, where a crowd of more than 400 gave him and those songs lots of love and warm ovations.
Lowe, 63, has evolved with much coolness and grace from a pop-rocker to a crooner of sophisticated, contemplative ballads about love, romance and other elements of the heart.
He opened Thursday’s show with one of those, “Stoplight Roses,” a song about an overdue reckoning “If you believe your same-old-used-to-be will see you through / You’ll last about as long as stoplight roses do.” He followed that with “Heart,” a petition to the source of romance, pain and glee: “Oh, heart, there must be no mistake / Beware, special care from the start / Oh, heart, though I’m glad / For the first bit of love we’ve had / Make certain or else you’re gonna break.”
And so it went. Some of his songs are sweet and romantic. Others are biting and snide, like “I Trained Her to Love Me”: “This one’s almost done / Now to watch her fall apart / I trained her to love me / So I can go ahead and break heart.”
“House for Sale” is one of his best, and he delivered it in a voice that evoked its sadness and resignation: “House for sale / I’ll tell you where to redirect my mail / Take a look inside / This is where love / Once did reside.” He is a deceptively smooth singer, his seasoned baritone a blend of polish and grit.
He chatted with the crowd throughout the set, recalling his stellar opening gig for Wilco at the Uptown Theater in December, giving some love to Knuckleheads and leading the crowd into a false sense of superiority by disparaging the “terrible” crowd in St. Louis on Wednesday -- “that half-eaten turkey sandwich backstage had more jump” -- then popping that bubble by admitting he was kidding.
Even his pop/rock songs, such as “Cruel to be Kind,” “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll) withstood the solo/acoustic treatment, more evidence of his long-time talents as a songwriter and lyricist. He ended with something new, “Tokyo Bay,” and a melancholic rendition of something old and very familiar, “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding;” a song Elvis Costello made well-known. He closed with one of Costello’s best, “Alison.” Appropriate, that was: After all these years, Lowe’s aim is still dead-on and true.
Setlist: Stoplight Roses; Heart; Long Limbed Girl Lately I’ve Let Things Slide; She’s Got Soul; I Trained Her to Love Me; I Live on a a Battlefield; I Read a Lot; Cruel to be Kind; Raining Raining; Crying Inside; Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day; Sensitive Man; Somebody Cares for Me; House for Sale; Without Love; I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll. Encore: When I Write the Book; (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding; Tokyo Bay; Alison.
Eleni Mandell: She opened the night with a 40-minute solo/acoustic set that dove-tailed nicely with Lowe's. And judging by the number of people who lined up to buy some of her older music, she appeared to make a lot of new fans at this show -- recognition well-deserved. Her setlist included "Moonglow," "Who You Gonna Dance With, "Never Have to Fall in Love Again," "Magic Summertime," "Bun in the Oven" and "I'm Lucky."| Timothy Finn, The Star