LIVE: Nick Lowe’s Quality Holiday Revue @ The Egg, 12/19/14
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk, Ed Conway
Fittingly, the concert of 2014 – Nick Lowe’s Quality Holiday Revue – closed out a year filled with tremendous live music events in Nippertown. The sold-out night was tinged with a bittersweet vibe, though.
The gregarious spirit of Ian McLagan, who passed away on the eve of the tour earlier in the month, was present in conversations in The Egg’s lobby. (In October, McLagan told me after his remarkable set at The Linda about how much he was looking forward to a tour with his Yep Roc label mates: “Can you believe it? Nick Lowe! Los Straitjackets! Me! What a revue it’ll be! Albany’s in for a treat!”).
Minutes before the show, Eddie Angel lamented, “I never got a chance to meet Mac, but I loved his music and what he meant to so many bands.”
The lights dimmed in the lobby; The Egg’s Swyer Theatre was filling quickly to the brim.
The Cactus Blossoms, a duo from Minneapolis, opened with a very well-received set that sounded uncannily like the Everly Brothers or Louvin Brothers reincarnated in their prime. Jake Torrey and Page Burkum, armed with nondescript guitars, had the high lonesome country western sound going, alternating verses and harmonizing to perfection on cuts primarily drawn from their 2011 eponymous debut and 2013’s Live at the Turf Club.
Their covers were bold, too. Hank Williams’ “Tennessee Border” sounded as fresh as the day it was recorded, while the Beatles’ early gem “This Boy” featured some fine, understated soloing by Torpey on a hollow-body electric. “She’s a Clown Collector” featured some dry but hip Minnesotan wit, and “Traveler’s Paradise” – introduced as “an existential cowboy song” – was dedicated to McLagan, who flat out loved to play to audiences no matter the size of the venue.
After a 15-minute intermission, Nick Lowe got a rousing welcome from the crowd, and he couldn’t help but smile. He had the sanguine demeanor of an old friend, albeit one with one of the best songbooks around. Lowe’s vocals were as full-bodied as his acoustic guitar riffs on openers “Rose of England” and “Heart.” Offering a shout-out to “Eddie Angel’s hometown,” assuring the audience that their “efforts would be thoroughly rewarded,” and saluting McLagan (“He was what we referred to in the 1960s as a ‘prime groover'”), Lowe presented an uptempo “Long Limbed Girl” from 2007’s At My Age and “A Dollar Short of Happy”, a wry, down and out tale co-written with Ry Cooder for last year’s essential Quality Street (A Seasonal Selection for All the Family).
And then the energy level went to 11. The Egg levitated and hatched. In mid-song, Los Straitjackets – Eddie Angel and Greg Townson on guitars, Pete Curry on bass, and Chris Sprague on drums and backing vocals – took the stage and backed Nick Lowe to rock and roll perfection on “Seven Nights to Rock.” “Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart” and “Ragin’ Eyes” featured some tasty solos by Townson; “Christmas at the Airport” mixed self-deprecating lyrics (“Don’t save me any turkey/ I found a burger in a bin”) with some inspired lead/rhythm work by Angel. “Not Too Long Ago” stirred rock and soul into a holiday cordial, and Curry and Sprague just nailed the grooves.
Departing to cheers, Lowe left the audience in the good hands of Los Straitjackets, who can draw upon a deep repertoire, too. Traditional holiday covers (“Sleight Ride,” “Marshmallow World” and “Lucy and Linus”), a sublime “Pacifica” from Viva! Los Straitjackets and “Outta Gear” rocked so hard they cried out for a dance floor. An instrumental take on “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” concluded with Lowe rejoining the group to roll out a eight-song mini-set highlighted by the hopeful “Somebody Cares for Me,” the 1979 classic “Cruel to Be Kind” and a super-cool rendition of Roy Wood’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”.
Yet the gift-giving was not over….
“Sing, Sing, Sing!” was a tour de force performance: booming bass, call and response guitars, and wild soloing and hilarious showmanship by Sprague behind the kit. “Itchycoo Park” may have surprised many but it was an absolutely spot-on tribute to McLagan, whose keyboard work made it a 1967 Small Faces psychedelic classic. (Los Straitjackets made it their own, but I must confess I was the one a few rows back singing the chorus at the top of my lungs).
Raising their hands like Super Bowl champions, Los Straitjackets coaxed Lowe to return with more presents for the audience. What an array it was: an obscure but kickass rockabilly cover (“Knock, Knock, Rattle”); a timeless call for common sense and good will to others (“What’s So Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding?”); and a stomping, Sun Records-styled take on traditional gospel (“Children, Go Where I Send Thee”) replete with intricate lyrics.
The house lights came up, there was a lengthy standing ovation… and yet the show was still not over!
Lowe scrambled back up to the stage to grab his acoustic guitar, took three steps back as if to leave, and then stepped up to the microphone to deliver the encore of encores, a solo performance of the mystical narrative “I Was Born in Bethlehem” from Quality Street.
Paul Rapp’s review and Timothy Mack’s photograph at Metroland
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “It was an unlikely marriage between irreverent Nashville-based surf-rockabilly band Los Straitjackets and legendary British rocker Nick Lowe, but it worked quite splendidly when Lowe brought his Quality Holiday Revue to The Egg on Friday night in one of the most anticipated concerts of the yuletide season. The silver-haired Lowe, looking dapper in slacks and thick black glasses, kicked things off in the sold-out Swyer Theatre with a solo acoustic set that included his classic protest song ‘The Rose of England’ and the blissful pop of ‘Heart,’ a fan favorite from his 46-year career. ‘Hark, do I hear the approach of the first Christmas song of the night?’ Lowe asked before ‘A Dollar Short of Happy,’ an elegant tune he wrote with Ry Cooder that appears on Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family, a collection of holiday obscurities and originals Lowe released last year. As the crowd clapped along to rockabilly classic ‘Seven Nights to Rock,’ the four mysterious members of Los Straitjackets came onstage, dressed in dark suits and candy-cane striped ties, faces concealed by their trademark Mexican wrestling masks. From there, the high-energy instrumental ensemble, featuring the Capital Region’s own guitar-slinging Eddie Angel, turned the show into a rock and roll dance party.”
NICK LOWE/LOS STRAITJACKETS SET LIST
The Rose of England (Lowe solo)
Heart (Lowe solo)
Long Limbed Girl (Lowe solo)
A Dollar Short of Happy (Lowe solo)
Seven Nights to Rock (Lowe solo) (Moon Mullican)
Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart
Christmas at the Airport
Not Too Long Ago
Sleigh Ride (Straitjackets solo)
Marshmallow World (Straitjackets solo)
Pacifica (Straitjackets solo)
Linus and Lucy (Straitjackets solo) (Vince Guaraldi)
Outta Gear (Straitjackets solo)
I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass (Straitjackets solo)
Somebody Cares for Me
The North Pole Express
Half a Boy and Half a Man
Cruel to Be Kind
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll)
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (Wizzard)
Sing, Sing, Sing (Straitjackets solo) (Louis Prima)
Itchycoo Park (Straitjackets solo) (Small Faces)
Knock Knock Rattle (Rex Allen)
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
Children Go Where I Send Thee
I Was Born in Bethlehem (Lowe solo)
THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS SET LIST
You’re Dreaming Beside Me
Tennessee Border (Hanks Williams cover)
A Little Unfair
Almost out of Everything
This Boy (the Beatles)
Love Is a Wild Thing
She’s a Clown Collector
What Makes Me Love You?
Don’t Sneak Around
Change Your Ways or Die (The Buffalo Song)