Home / Concert Reviews / Nick Lowe w/ Geraint Watkins @ The Pabst Theater
Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

Nick Lowe w/ Geraint Watkins @ The Pabst Theater

Oct. 7, 2010

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For diehard music fans of a certain age, a Nick Lowe concert is an event. Forget for a moment the infrequent airplay back in his post New Wave heyday with Rockpile and his production credits with The Pretenders, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello’s best albums; like so many great British artists, Lowe takes the vitals of American roots music and serves it back to us as if to say, “Here is what you have been missing out on.” Four decades of musical experience will grant you that credibility.

Thursday at the Pabst, Lowe and his band played a long set that seemed effortless and comfortable. And that was the ruse: Like a team of old pros they simply locked into a groove and made it seem easy. Of course with Lowe’s catalog of songs, they were starting ahead of the game.

Despite the debate over its sincerity and potential sarcasm, Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” has acquired a hymn-like quality that borrows from Lowe’s original recording with pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz and leaves Costello’s angst twitching in the dust. Each year it seems to grow in its sense of gravitas. Likewise “Cruel to Be Kind” settled into a sublime shuffle that renders it as the perfect endearing (and enduring) pop song and not just a blip on the Top 40 radar.

At the Pabst Lowe displayed his take on rockabilly in “Without Love” and smoothly nicked the Everly Brothers on “Has She Got a Friend.” Strumming a jumbo Gibson acoustic, Lowe with longtime drummer Bobby Irwin and upright bassist Matt Radford supplied a supple rhythm section over which Johnny Scott twanged his reverb-drenched Gretsch guitar and Geraint Watkins laid down funky piano and Hammond organ riffs.

Borrowing everywhere from Stax to Muscle Shoals, from Motown to Philly soul, this was a band to be reckoned with, yet one best characterized by Watkins waving off spontaneous applause for solos as if to say “aw, that was nothing really.” As one fan put it, “these guys just don’t make mistakes.”

As a writer, Lowe seems to have discovered the crossroads where country and soul meet and has staked out a corner usually reserved for the likes of Kris Kristofferson or Charlie Rich. His “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” is as vivid a portrait of regret as you will find anywhere. On the other side of the coin “Long Limbed Girl” wishes the best to a past love.

Veering from the threat of maudlin Lowe also offered the likes of “I Trained Her to Loved Me,” a tongue-in-cheek study of a rake’s progress and the bop-along “I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll” which brought concertgoers to their feet.

When was the last time the opening act recieved an encore? Geraint Watkins opened with a solo set showcasing a style reminiscent of Fats Domino. From rollicking R&B to complex jazz chords, his originals were ripe with a sense of laid back experience. A longtime recording artist (he has worked with Van Morrison and Paul McCartney), Watkins’ nuanced playing and soulful vocals could have been pure Americana until his between song banter displayed a thick Welsh brogue.

Watkins took to dramatically miming “Out Demons, Out!” and then recited the first lines of “Johnny B. Goode” before re-imagining the tune as a writ by Lieber and Stoller with a Thelonius Monk solo tossed in—an amazing take on a song that has become part of rock ’n’ roll’s collective consciousness. Needless to say, Watkins is a gem.

Photo by CJ Foeckler
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