Friday, December 5, 2014

Concert Review: Nick Lowe, Los Straitjackets, and The Cactus Blossoms at First Avenue

Nick Lowe, frolicking in the snow and being left-handed. (Left-handed people are the best. Nick Lowe, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, David Byrne and Philip Roth are all left-handed. I rest my case.)

Album cover of Nick Lowe's "Quality Street," 2013.

The Cactus Blossoms
Nick Lowe, one of my favorite artists, came to the Twin Cities again this week as he performed at First Avenue on Tuesday with Los Straitjackets backing him. Veteran British rocker Ian McLagan was due to open the show, but sadly he passed away on Tuesday after suffering a stroke on Monday. I was looking forward to seeing McLagan, who was the keyboard player with the Small Faces and the Faces. Local duo The Cactus Blossoms filled in for McLagan on the bill, and they did a great job. The Cactus Blossoms are two brothers, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, who specialize in Western swing, and their voices combine just as beautifully as the Everly Brothers. Torrey and Burkum performed as a duo, with just their acoustic guitars, and that worked very well for their sound. One of the highlights of their set was a lovely cover of the Beatles’ “This Boy.” 

Lowe took the stage alone and sang the first few songs of his set solo, which always highlights what a great guitar player he is, and how good his songs are. Lowe spoke a little about McLagan’s tragic passing and that he would have wanted the show to carry on. As Nick played “7 Nights to Rock,” Los Straitjackets came onto the stage to accompany him. Los Straitjackets proved to be an inspired choice to back Lowe, as their 1960’s surf/garage rock style worked very well on rockers like “Ragin’ Eyes” and “Half a Boy and Half a Man.” Los Straitjackets also brought a palpable energy to the stage, and when Lowe left the stage for a break they entertained with instrumental versions of “Sleigh Ride,” “Bus Stop,” “Linus and Lucy,” and Lowe’s own “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass.” 

Although the tour’s official title is the “Quality Holiday Revue,” taking its title from Lowe’s 2013 Christmas CD “Quality Street,” Nick only sang four holiday songs. But I don’t think the audience minded. Lowe sang a lot of his best-known songs, but the set list also featured songs I haven’t heard him sing live before, like “The Rose of England” and “Half a Boy and Half a Man.” Lowe brought his customary energy and good humor to the stage, and the highlights of the concert for me were a lovely solo version of “Heart,” the slyly humorous “Christmas at the Airport,” and two great tracks from Nick’s 2007 album “At My Age,” “Not Too Long Ago,” and “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day.” Lowe closed the evening by singing a beautiful solo version of Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” a song that Nick originally produced for Costello’s debut 1977 album, “My Aim Is True.” Lowe’s soulful voice and spare guitar worked well to bring out all of the emotion in Costello’s song. 

Here’s the set list for the songs that Nick Lowe sang:

The Rose of England
Long Limbed Girl
A Dollar Short of Happy
7 Nights to Rock
With Los Straitjackets:
Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart
Ragin’ Eyes
Christmas at the Airport
Not Too Long Ago
Sensitive Man
Somebody Cares For Me
North Pole Express
Half a Boy and Half a Man
Cruel to be Kind
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday
I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)
Tokyo Bay
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?
Second encore:

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