English singer-songwriter Nick Lowe has been rocking for the better part of five decades now, creating retro-sounding two-to-three-minute pop songs from a world where Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers were every bit as important as the Beatles and the Stones. From his early days as a member of Brinsley Schwarz and Rockpile to his long and storied career as a solo artist, Lowe has written some of the most recognizable songs in modern music. In recent years, Lowe has worked with instrumental garage rockers and luchador mask aficionados Los Straitjackets as his frequent backing band, and it was this combo who came to the Hamilton in Washington, DC on Sunday evening for a sold-out performance.
Lowe started out the night reaching all the way back to his first solo single from 1976, “So It Goes.” What followed was an overview of the many facets of his career – from the jangling guitars of “Ragin’ Eyes” to the rockabilly slant of “Without Love,” and from the balladry of “You Inspire Me” to the country rock of “Shting-Shtang,” Lowe led the audience through a tour of the many varied forms that he’s adopted over the years.
After a few more songs including a cover of Dig Richards’ 1962 single “Raincoat in the River” (which Lowe will be releasing his version of on a new EP due out in May) and the title track of last year’s Tokyo BayEP, Lowe left the stage to hand the spotlight over to Los Straitjackets for a short set of their songs, including “Kawanga!,” “University Blvd,” “Space Mosquito,” and “Itchy Chicken.” An instrumental cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” led into another instrumental cover of one of Lowe’s songs, “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass,” before Lowe returned to the stage.
After a cover of Mary Robbins’ 1956 country single “You Don’t Owe Me a Thing,” Lowe and Los Straitjackets played two more songs from their forthcoming EP. The title track of the record, “Love Starvation,” easily ranks as one of Lowe’s best songs in years, bound to become a classic in his catalog. The latter part of the set also included Lowe’s best-known song, “Cruel to Be Kind,” and “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll),” a song penned by Lowe which was a hit for his Rockpile bandmate Dave Edmunds.
When it came time for the encore, Los Straitjackets returned to the stage, and with a shout of “Viva Batman!” they broke into a cover of the theme song to the 1960s TV show. Lowe’s return to the stage brought two songs from his earliest work, the Rockpile track “When I Write the Book” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” a song that was a hit for Elvis Costello (from his Lowe-produced Armed Forces album), but which started its life with Brinsley Schwarz. Cheers from the crowd drew Lowe back solo for one more song, a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Alison.”
At 70, Lowe shows no signs of slowing down — if anything, his collaboration with Los Straitjackets appears to have reinvigorated him. Viva Nick Lowe!
Nashville-based singer-songwriter Dawn Landes opened the set. Her latest EP, My Tiny Twilight, is released on May 10th.
Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets setlist
(Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets) So It Goes Ragin’ Eyes Without Love You Inspire Me Shting-Shtang Raincoat in the River Somebody Cares for Me Tokyo Bay
(Los Straitjackets) Kawanga! University Blvd Space Mosquito Itchy Chicken My Heart Will Go On I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass
(Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets) You Don’t Owe Me a Thing Love Starvation Blue on Blue Half a Boy and Half a Man Here Comes that Feeling Cruel to Be Kind Heart of the City I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)
Batman Theme (Los Straitjackets) When I Write the Book (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding