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In The Flesh

Live Review: Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets • Old Town School of Folk Music • Chicago

| August 8, 2022



Nick Lowe (photo Curt Baran)

Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets

Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Review by Jeff Elbel

Photo: Nick Lowe at Riot Fest 2019 (by Curt Baran)

Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets kicked off a lengthy touring jaunt of opening dates for Elvis Costello by warming up with a headlining return to the Old Town School of Folk Music. The set spanned nearly 50 years of songs, beginning with Lowe’s 1976 debut solo single “So It Goes.” Lowe sang and played acoustic guitar, while versatile quartet Los Straitjackets adapted their surf and garage-rock sound to amplify the Duane Eddy-styled twang in Lowe’s rootsy pop. Early in the show, Lowe buttered up the crowd by expressing his abiding love for Chicago and affection for the venue. “It feels like a second home,” he said. The affable Lowe was in good spirits, cracking jokes and thanking the audience for filling the room on a weeknight.

Lowe sang “Ragin’ Eye” in his raspy but warm voice and continued with the Carl Perkins-styled country pop of “Without Love” from 1979’s Labour of Lust. Afterward, he described the band’s tour opening for Costello, taking a good-natured dig at his longtime collaborator’s comparatively easy schedule including frequent nights off. “We can’t afford to do that,” he said wryly. The economic necessity to sprinkle headlining dates between opening sets proved to be any fan’s gain, as Lowe and the band proceeded to play a generous and adventurous batch of 27 songs. Lowe promised “at least two or three proper hit songs,” as well as “obscure songs for the more committed.”

Lowe’s lengthy songwriting career is distinguished by the lack of any measurable slump. The singer joked that longtime listeners shouldn’t fear the newer material. “It sounds just like the old stuff,” he said. Although Stiff Records singles and vintage material circa Jesus of Cool or Labour of Lust may have been most eagerly anticipated, later songs from Lowe’s catalog revealed a craft that has been constantly refined. “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” from 2001’s The Convincer was a perfect slice of country heartbreak, and 2019’s “Blue on Blue” was a psych-pop tearjerker.

Although there was ample opportunity to indulge Lowe’s deliciously dejected way with sad songs, it wasn’t all downbeat by a longshot. “Shting-Shtang” reveled in a run of good luck. “The merry mood I’m in makes way for love,” sang Lowe in the similarly upbeat “Lay it On Me Baby.” Spirited ‘50s-pop throwback “Somebody Cares for Me” was a happy-go-lucky celebration of new love, underscored by the intertwining guitars of Eddie Angel and Greg Townson.

Following the rowdy escapism of the twanging “Tokyo Bay,” Lowe gave the stage to Los Straitjackets, resplendent in luchador masks and matching black suits with medallions. Drummer Chris Sprague cut loose during the adrenalin-pumping surf of “Kawanga!” “Aerostar” was dreamy pop. Townson got the crowd to sing the choruses during a cover of Shocking Blue’s “Venus.” Angel played hot surf guitar with stunts, comic fills, and hints of Dick Dale during “Itchy Chicken,” accompanied by Sprague on rubber chicken (sporting its own tiny luchador mask). Los Straitjackets concluded with Lowe’s “Rollers Show,” rejoined by the author for the final chorus.

Highlights of Lowe’s second set included a rollicking “Half a Boy and Half a Man.” The set peaked at fever pitch with a run of singalong favorites, including the promised hits: “Cruel to Be Kind,” “Heart of the City,” 1974’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll)” capped a master class in thinking person’s pop. A pair of brand-new songs, including “Jet Pack” and the Kinks-styled “I Went to a Party,” were performed earlier, promising top quality for new music to come.

Lowe returned to encore with Rockpile’s sublime “When I Write the Book.” He urged the crowd to sing along and took a comical swipe at a former bandmate. “It’s as easy as that,” said Lowe after demonstrating the part. “Even Dave Edmunds could do it.” The gag drew a big laugh, had the whole room singing, and closed the evening on a euphoric high note.

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Category: Featured, Stage Buzz

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