Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets at Lincoln Center Out of Doors (Photo: Edward Haber)
Even if Nick Lowe weren't so good, he's just so darn likable that you'd love him in concert anyway.
At his Lincoln Center Out of Doors gig Saturday night in Damrosch Park with Los Straitjackets, he promised a pleasant evening of family-friendly pop music for all those aged "nine to 90," which it certainly was: Even the lime green suits and colorful lucha libre Mexican wrestling masks worn by Los Straitjackets were more adorable than threatening.
Then again, years ago when he came out with his double aptly titled 1978 album debut--Jesus of Cool in the U.K., Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.—Lowe, as an esteemed producer, earned the moniker "Basher" for bashing out classic English new wave albums by the likes of Elvis Costello, The Damned and The Pretenders. But he comes across on stage now as everyone's favorite uncle, his patter as engaging as his songs, and while the white-haired and bespectacled singer-songwriter in the white shirt looks ridiculously out of place in front of Los Straitjackets, it's really a perfect match: Having performed together on holiday shows (they jointly released The Quality Holiday Revue [Live] album from them in 2015), the instrumental guitar quartet, which specializes in rockabilly, garage and surf rock, is so at home with Lowe's songs that it released an album of Lowe covers, What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets, earlier this year.
Then again, Lowe's songs are nothing if not comfortable. This being New York, there were quite a few music biz veterans in the VIP section who went back all the way with Lowe and who marveled at how his songs continue to evoke the best of 1950s, '60s and '70s rock 'n' roll, that if you didn't already know who wrote them, you'd swear they were covers by the top tunesmiths of the time.
Nick Lowe & Los Straitjackets perform "Half a Boy and Half a Man"
They also lamented that Lowe, whose Lincoln Center set included such gems as first single "So It Goes," his 1984 hit "Half a Boy and Half a Man," the 1985 hit "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ’n’ Roll)," his 1979 signature hit "Cruel to Be Kind," and his classic "Heart of the City"—here with a steady midtempo groove that could have gone on all night—somehow remains underrated. New song "Crying Inside," meanwhile, showed that his considerable songwriting skills remain undiminished.
Los Straitjackets, who took a 20-minute turn by themselves in the middle of the set, once again showed that they could adjust from showcasing their own considerable musicianship to supporting Lowe's songs, though they could still throw in a fab surf guitar break to his 1997 slow ballad "You Inspire Me." After incorporating a bit of "Wipe Out" into their "Batman" encore, they assisted Lowe on a slow, sincere version of his show-closing 1978 composition "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?," which was written as a joke but famously turned into a serious anthem by Elvis Costello, who also ends his shows with it.
None of this is to suggest that Lowe's songs--and showmanship--are lightweight. At the very least, in terms of pop music, he's still as good as it gets. And sure enough, those music biz veterans in the VIP section who went back all the way with Lowe were left to marvel, too, at how he somehow sounds better than he did when he first sang "What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"—all the while turning lime green with envy over Los Straitjackets suits.