by James D. Wolf, Jr on June 8, 2012

At 63, Nick Lowe is well past being in the vanguard of  Britain’s Angry Young Men of the 1970s or influencing the sounds of punk and new wave as house producer at Stiff Records. That made little impact on his April 21, 2012, appearance in Lafayette, Indiana, for Nick Lowe & His Band’s The Old Magic tour.

While Mick Jagger still struts like the cock of the walk, Brian Ferry has grown into his lounge-lizard persona, and Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty polish the image of the working-class hero, Lowe simply takes the stage and plays, obviously comfortable with himself. He began solo with a plugged-in acoustic guitar, playing “Stoplight Roses” off the new album, followed by 1982’s “Heart.” For the audience, it was like watching a venerated master perform. Lowe knows his musical territory, and he didn’t waste a move or take a false step getting to the sound he wanted. He’s lived there.

By continuing that contrast through the concert, Lowe showcased a career that has changed but that has always had a love for American music. Where “Stoplight Roses” shows how his current work pays homage to country and folk songs, “Heart” recalls rockabilly and his earlier short, playful pop songs. The uncomplicated sound is the natural result for a man once known as “Basher” for his raw, simple productions of early recordings by the Damned, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and the Pretenders.

This was not a retrospective show, though. He played no Little Village songs, and if you’re a Lowe fan, there were songs like “Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)” and “So It Goes” that you would’ve liked to hear. However, he played 22 songs in all, including two encores that people who saw the Chicago show the previous night informed me were the same and just as moving. He played his two biggest hits, “Cruel to Be Kind” from 1978 and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” from 1985, but surrounding those were “I Trained Her to Love Me” from 2007, “Without Love,” which he covered on the Johnny Cash tribute The Legend, and “When I Write the Book” from his 1980 work with Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. He also noted that the last time he’d performed in Lafayette was in 1981, opening for the Cars. “Where are they now?” he joked.

Yet the first encore seemed to be everything he wanted to say that evening, starting with an acoustic version of his “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” This version wasn’t the eulogy to the 1960s that Lowe originally recorded with pub rock band Brinsley Schwarz, nor the anger of Elvis Costello in the Cold War Reagan era. Instead, it was the voice of a man who has seen a lot and who genuinely wonders why we don’t seem to learn. There was no self-pity or bitterness, and the sound touched the heart. The emotion in it stilled his audience, capturing the total attention of the crowded second floor of the Lafayette Brewing Company. As he told the audience early in the show, the band cut its teeth on venues like this one, a revamped furniture warehouse that I once heard Marshall Crenshaw liken to an old Midwest union hall.

He ended the encores with a version of Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” also done with a slight melancholy and a sense of reminiscence, as if eavesdropping on a conversation between two people who’ve known each other a long time. When the encores ended, Lowe gave a genuine, warm smile and waved out to the crowd as if he knew most of them, too. This was a man who enjoyed entertaining the audience and sharing a love of music.

After the show, Lowe stepped out and briefly socialized with fans and posed for photos with them, but by the time I went over there, he’d retired back to the dressing room. I don’t begrudge him the rest and solitude. He certainly earned it with the show and with the oeuvre he’s created over the years. I just have one request: Mr. Lowe, if you should perchance read this, I’d adore receiving an autographed photo that says you’re glad I had such a good time at my 47th birthday celebration. After all, you helped make it the best I’ve had in years.

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Nick Lowe & His Band
Lafayette Brewing Company, Lafayette, Indiana, April 21, 2012
Nick Lowe, lead vocals and guitar; Geraint Watkins, vocals and keyboards; Johnny Scott, guitar; Bob Treherne, drums and vocals; Matt Radford, bass

1. Stoplight Roses
2. Heart
3. What Lack of Love Has Done
4. Ragin’ Eyes
5. Lately I’ve Let Things Slide
6. Has She Got a Friend?
7. I Trained Her to Love Me
8. I Live on a Battlefield
9. I Read a Lot
10. Cruel to Be Kind
11. Raining, Raining
12. Sensitive Man
13. ‘Cause Somebody Cares for Me
14. House for Sale
15. Tower of Strength
16. Without Love
17. I Knew the Bride
18. When I Write the Book
19. Peace, Love, and Understanding
20. Tokyo Bay
21. Hound Dog
22. Alison

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James D. Wolf Jr. is a correspondent for The Post-Tribune in Northwest Indiana.

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