For one of the busiest Thursday night’s in many a Thursday night, the choices were the return of Rage Against The Machine At Madison Square Garden, Lady Gaga at MetLife on her Chromatica tour, and Elvis Costello still selling The Boy Named If…, a very good album but not that very good. The reason to choose Costello uber alles is single subject matter: Nick Lowe opening. For those of us of a certain age the albums Nick produced for Costello at the front of his career are golden age rock and roll:
My Aim Is True – A+
This Year’s Model – A+
Armed Forces – A-
Get Happy!! – A+
Trust – A-
Just the thought of them performing together again, last time was 1989 but I go back as far as Live Stiffs in 1977, and one of the great sets was in 1979 at the New York Palladium with Rockpile opening for Elvis on the This Year’s Model tour. This one… the hope was Elvis would tailor the evening to Nick, that he would delve into their songs in the lab. Elvis didn’t do that, he played a variant on the tour he has been playing all summer and while it certainly wasn’t bad, and the variations are certainly worth acknowledging, it didn’t take advantage of the situation. But first…
Looking like the picture of rock cool in its 70s, at 73 years of age Lowe is less timeless and more timed, backed by the Ventures meets Raybeats instrumental, surf and turf Los Straightjackets (Danny Amis used to be lead guitarist), they were excellent backup musicians and their mini set in the middle of a shortened 40 minutes, was not bad at all. Lowe himself was the man about town pop savant, after years of leaning on Americana this set moved through it to rockabilly, and while everything from “Roller Show” to “The Rose Of England” and not a damn thing off his other masterpiece (Party Of One) (the first was Pure Pop For Now People of course) was performed, yet everything stuck well, “Trombone” stuck out and “Cruel To Be Kind” was a balm for us aging rockers. A nicely turned set.
Unlike Elvis Costello which, despite the inclusion of one of the great Texan guitarist Charlie Sexton, the set was a little all over the place and not classis Imposters. Essentially it was the usual unusual plus, three songs with Nicole Atkins, two with Alan Myles (half of Elvis’s first band, Rusty, in 1972) and two with Lowe. All seven were great, and on the occasions when Charlie took a solo it got even better.
There were huge potholes in the set, just look at it this way, the average song lasted five minutes and every single extension defined a waste from a terrible coda to “Green Shirt” to an excruciating “Watching The Detectives” segued with his version (he also wrote the words for Charlie Mingus in 2010) “Invisible Lady” and it was a bad mix that really made a mess of the song and went on for what feels like hours. Just as bad was the deportees from the Broadway Musical of A Face In The Crowd (we are still eagerly awaiting it) but “Hetty O’Hara Confidential” was not the one to keep off the dreaded Hey, Clockface and The Delivery Man‘s 2004 “Either Side Of The Same Town” didn’t deserve the resurrection.
The featured artists saved the evening. Nicole Atkins is the 43 year old Americana singer who dueted with Costello on the exquisite “My Most Beautiful Mistake”, from the new album, and then surpassed it with the best version of Brutal Youth’s “Still Too Soon To Know” you have ever heard. Alan Myles, for the first time he had hit the bigtime after Costello went solo and only returned to Rusty after suggesting Elvis and he release a cassette. Instead we got the The Resurrection of Rusty seven song, debut EP dropped earlier this year and Alan was on Fallon on Wednesday: “I thought being on television was thrilling… but this?” Alan said as they launched into two songs off the EP, the Jim Ford Classic “I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind”, Brinsley Schwartz also covered it and Nick wrote “Surrender To The Rhythm” the other song, and Costello was completely right, it should have been a hit.
And now for the primary reason we are all here! Nick Lowe joining Elvis for two songs, the first, King Of America‘s glorious melodrama “Indoor Fireworks” with a lovely solo from Steve Nieve on keyboards and Nick and Elvis doing harmonies with a surprise ending where Costello deeps down further in a rumbling baritone. Then, you knew it was gonna send us there, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” with the entire audience -the 3400 capacity club was sold out- roaring the hook.
It was a more exciting moment for us kids of the 70s than Rage and Gaga combined, just breathtaking to see them hugging each other in what amounted to a secret Lowe loveletter, with a recording of “Surrender To The Rhythm” at the start of El’s and the bringing together of Rusty’s hugely Brinsley Schwartz influenced set performed for the man himself, and somewhere in all that Lowe ignores the sentimentality of the evening (though he smiles constantly), and instead embraces the moment with cheerfulness. No, it wasn’t the reunion we wanted, it was still the reunion we got…
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