Nick Lowe still charms and rocks at Turner Hall Ballroom
Nick Lowe could be the poster child for AARP.
With a shock of white hair and a career that connects him to nearly every significant music trend of the last 40 years, it is fair to say that this man’s odometer has racked up significant miles.
But he’s not ready to hang up his guitar strap and retire to a bar stool, regaling a coterie of sycophants with stories of the good old days. And neither is he content to simply get up on stage and play the same old hits, as wonderful and timeless as they may be.
What fans who attended Lowe’s performance at Turner Hall on Thursday heard was the performance of a talented and engaged entertainer who recognizes that in art as in life the key to success is reinvention.
If you don’t know much about Lowe’s career, then you’re coming late to one heck of a party. But no worries because nobody’s turning the lights on and chasing anyone home quite yet.
The cliché is that he’s best known for the songs that he’s written that other artists made into hits. Certainly he’s not as well known as Elvis Costello, who made a megahit out of his “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” or Johnny Cash, whose version of Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” appeared on the soundtrack of the HBO series “The Sopranos.” He hit the charts on his own with his 1979 recording of “Cruel to Be Kind” (which made it to number 12 in the United States and United Kingdom).
Yet there’s nothing shabby about a career associated with so many luminaries of contemporary music; you could say Lowe is something of a rock and roll Zelig, but that wouldn’t do justice to the role he’s played shaping what we listen to.
In his typically self-effacing manner, Lowe pleaded with his audience to indulge him as he mixed new stuff in with his better known hits. It wasn’t necessary; it was clear Lowe could do no wrong by his Milwaukee fans.
Known as the “Jesus of Cool” (the title of the British release of his first solo album), Lowe delivered something of a sermon on Thursday, but in this church the music is the gospel. In the beginning, you might say, was the note. Nearly every song conveys a multitude of influences including delta blues, country and western and Tin Pan Alley.
Lowe was supported by a talented group of musicians: Geraint Watkins on keyboards, Robert Trehern on drums, Johnny Scott on guitar and Matt Radford on stand-up bass. The band delivered the goods (especially Watkins), whether it was doing a faithful version of “Cruel to Be Kind’ or jazzing up “House for Sale,” from The Old Magic, Lowe’s latest album.
Lowe started and ended his set alone on the stage, the final song his version of the Costello hit “Alison.” After, the audience filed out into the chilly night feeling that special warmth that only a wonderful concert can provide.
The parallel served as a fitting reminder: The road does not go on forever so we might as well have fun while we’re here.
Milwaukee legend Paul Cebar opened for Lowe. His solo set provided the perfect prelude to the headliner. His wry smile, warm voice and skillful guitar suggest that we may have the St. Josaphat of Cool in our midst.