Nick Lowe at Sage Gateshead
Nick Lowe & Geraint Watkins
28th February 2012
Even at my age it’s still possible to be a fan of a singer in the way that we ‘music snobs’ generally sneer at; but that’s exactly how I feel about both Nick Lowe and the piano player extraordinaire Geraint Watkins, so the opportunity to see both of them in the Ryman styled Hall 2 of Sage Gateshead was too good to miss.
Looking frighteningly like Mark E Smith from the miserablist indie band the Fall, and with barely a nod of recognition Geraint Watkins began his short set with a song I wasn’t familiar with; a slow Bluesy ballad called Is it Asking Too Much? but the second was Chagrin which is one of my favourites and a perfect example of why Watkins is more than just a piano player, with it’s clever French chorus and jazzy melody.
Baring in mind hardly anyone in the hall knew who he was at the start of the night the beautiful love song Easy to Say Bon Temps Rouler was so good it nearly received a standing ovation from the approving audience.
For a raconteur and wit Geraint still manages to look incredibly shy on stage whenever he has to address the audience; which is odd as his stories are as well crafted as his songs. Who else could write a song called Out Demons Out and explain that Edgar Broughton had exactly the same idea for a song forty years previously but they aren’t connected….but they might be?
Wales’ fifth most famous musician was always conscious of the time he had and was forced to curtail a very long but hilarious story about a mystical piece of musical wood to only five minutes and when the ‘instrument’ finally got played the roar of approval from the crowd was brilliant.
Apparently his slightly croaky throat meant Nick Lowe had to begin his career as a Jazz Singer slightly earlier than he’d anticipated and; I have to say it suits his new songs just perfectly.
You never really know what to expect with a Lowe show but tonight was a delightful mix of old and new songs from his long and fabulous career.
He began with the opening song from the new album and tonight’s version was a touch superior to the original, so perhaps he is destined to become a Jazz crooner after all. As a man of a ‘certain age’ myself I love the fact that Nick writes songs and especially love songs about his life now and the details hidden in them would keep a Dylanoligist busy for years.
House For Sale works on many different levels but is basically about a long marriage dissolving and is just as much a heartbreaker as anything on Motown in the 1960’s.
My favourite ‘twisted love song’ (substitute love with lust) is I Live on a Battlefield and tonight’s chunka-chunka guitar, rockabilly drumming and Lowe’s Presleyesque shapes made me wonder what The King might have looked and sounded like today if he’d lived and actually came from South London.
The silver haired star felt the need to apologise in advance if his voice wasn’t up hitting the requisite notes; but the slightly slower than usual I Read a Lot showed what a professional can do with a set of great lyrics.
Many before me have tried and failed to pigeon-hole Mr. Lowe but when a craftsman like this can mould the Country weepie Lately We Let Things Slide with as much Soul as he did tonight genres don’t matter one iota.
As any fan of Nick’s knows he also has a cheeky side and Does She Have a Friend I Trained Her to Love Me would have appeared arrogant if sung by a younger man; but with a twinkle in his eyes they actually/hopefully aren’t to be taken too seriously.
As the set rattled to a closure he plucked a few of British Pop music’s classiest songs out of his metaphorical hat and engaged the crowd in a raucous sing-along with Cruel to be Kind and I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock & Roll.
If I was a real music critic I’d tell you that a few songs borrow heavily from each other with melodies and even themes; but I’m not so I won’t.
The main event came to a close with a beautiful duet with Geraint on the Welshman’s Only A Rose that genuinely sent a shiver down my spine.
For a man with a back catalogue that is second to none the three encores were an odd choice and slightly marred a fantastic evening.
The timeless folk/protest/pop song What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding was greeted and sent-off with roars of Springsteen proportions and if he’d ended the night there everyone would have been happy but we got two more mid-paced rocky songs that no one appeared to recognise and eventually left the stage to generous applause rather than the hysteria his music deserves.