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Nick Lowe: An urbane everyman suffused with wisdom and wry self-awareness

A humble proposal: Those who have the uncontrollable impulse to perform yet another version of “What a Wonderful World” (best-known rendition: Louis Armstrong) divert their energies instead toward Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” a song that likewise celebrates the goodness of life but a better retort for the seemingly perpetual strife and bickering of modern America.

The first iconic version of Lowe’s song was posited as a scathing demand by Elvis Costello, straddling the divide between punk and new wave in the late ’70s. On his many concert tours of small and middle-sized venues during the 21st Century, Lowe — who had as much to do with shaping the convergence of punk and new wave as anyone — performs the song as a tender plea, a lament of our lost innocence. It’s a genuine tear-jerker.

It is a far cry from when Lowe was the go-to producer for England’s premiere punk label, Stiff Records, gauging the right amount of spittle on the sonic curled upper lip of The Damned, among others. And it is still a distance from the spot-on bare-bones rock of Rockpile a few years later. But it is perfectly consonant with the singer-songwriter Lowe has become over the last 15 years, portraying the aging process with just the right mix of sagacity, rue, and self-deprecation.

Lowe found himself burrowing the pivoting into a perch at the core of maturity — a state of being laden with illuminating perspective but gently ravaged by the steady erosion of time — beginning with “The Impossible Bird” album in 1994, when he was 45. Together with three subsequent efforts — “Dig My Mood” (1998), “The Convincer” (2001) and “At My Age” (2007) — he has created a collection of characters, vignettes, and narratives that are like paintings of a time of day when the sunset is just after its peak, the colors are starting to gray, still beautiful, and in broader dimension, but inevitably on the wane.

The songs on these albums are poignant but not nearly as sad as you might suspect, especially in concert, in part because Lowe exudes a winking charm and soldiering gaiety that’s essential to the presentation, and in part because he’ll drop in the occasional nugget from his commercial prime, like “I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass” or “Cruel To Be Kind,” which, surprise surprise, have aged remarkably well. And if his past few tours (including at least one that stopped at the Dakota, where he’ll be performing tonight and tomorrow night) are any indication, somewhere near the end of the show, perhaps at the encore, he’ll rivet the room with “Peace Love and Understanding.”

Here is one of the change-of-pace delights of his recent tours, “I Knew The Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll.”

Here is “Peace Love and Understanding” from the Jimmy Kimmel Show.

Nick Lowe at the Dakota Jazz Club + Restaurant, tonight and tomorrow night, Oct. 5 and 6, at 7 p.m.; tickets $35.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Luger on 10/06/2010 - 10:48 am.

    Britt:

    I thought Nick Lowe delivered a very powerful, and fun, evening last night. True to your prediction, his rendition of “What’s so funny. . ” at the end of the main set was poignant, and seemed to evoke a strong reaction from the audience. I have heard him sing this song many times, but I found myself last night, for the first time, wishing I could record the version he was performing 10 feet away from me.

    Amazingly, after all these years, he can still sing “Heart,” “Cruel to be Kind,” and “I knew the bride” without making me feel as though I am at an oldies show. Unlike many others from the 70s and 80s, his voice still hits the right spots and his personality resonates. Not once did I feel nostalgia, even though I was tempted to call out for Rollers Show.

    Many thanks to the Dakota for making this happen. They are drawing great talent to our city.

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