Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets + Sinead Burgess, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 9th June 2019

One dictionary definition of ‘perfection’ states that it is, “a state, variously, of completeness, flawlessness, or supreme excellence.” It is doubtful whether anyone at Nick Lowe’s sold out show tonight would have any hesitation in applying that definition to the man himself. From his earliest beginnings with Kippington Lodge and Brinsley Schwarz, it has always been apparent that Nick Lowe has a talent. His involvement with Stiff, and later Radar Records served to further underline that. However, the 1994 release of his ‘The Impossible Bird’ LP marked the beginning of a series of albums that have singled him out as one of the great British songwriters. Never one to stand still, Nick Lowe arrived tonight on the back of last year’s ‘Tokyo Bay’ single and this year’s ‘Love Starvation’ EP. On both releases Lowe is accompanied by Nashville instrumentalists Los Straitjackets and it’s they who are his current touring band.

Opening up with 1976’s ‘So It Goes’, the first record released on the Stiff label, Lowe set the tone for the evening, the gently rocking rhythm provided by Los Straitjackets giving it an added warmth. The familiar sounds of ‘Raging Eyes’ and ‘Without Love’ followed quickly on. New songs like ‘Tokyo Bay, ‘Love Starvation’ and ‘Raincoat in the River’ all sounded like they too, had been in the set for years, such was their quality.

Los Straitjackets underscored their own quality as Lowe took a short mid set break. Resplendent in their trademark Mexican wrestling masks, they delivered a series of blistering instrumental originals and covers. Sounding like the illegitimate offspring of a marriage between The Ventures and Link Wray, they grabbed their moment, wasting not a note. A clear case of killer rather than filler.

The Straitjackets finished off their turn in the spotlight with a few bars of Lowe’s ‘(I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass’, before the man himself returned to launch into ‘Half a Boy, Half a Man’ before effortlessly gliding through song after song of striking craft and enduring calibre, culminating in crowd pleasing favourites ‘Cruel to be Kind’, ‘Heart of the City’ and a magnificent swinging version of ‘I Knew the Bride (When She used to Rock and Roll). Lowe and band then departed the stage to a standing ovation. Los Straitjackets returned to deliver the first encore before Lowe joined them for ‘When I Write the Book’ and a beautiful slower, more reflective version of ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.

At a time of life (Lowe turned 70 in March) when many of his contemporaries are putting their feet up, or just doing the occasional money making nostalgia tour, Lowe is still at the peak of his long and distinguished career. Not only is he writing songs that sound like classic standards, but he still puts a live show together that can knock spots off of nearly anyone else out there. Perfection indeed.

Earlier in the evening Nashville based Australian songwriter Sinead Burgess entertained early arrivals with songs from her debut album. Blessed with a strong voice and good range, she put everything into winning over the crowd. However, her vocal talent failed to mask the limitations of the songs themselves.

Thanks to Steve McKeown for the use of his photograph.

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