Nick Lowe at Pabst Theater
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It’s safe to say that for the Stiff Records geeks who used the receipt from 2008’s reissue of Jesus of Cool/Pure Pop for Now People to wipe the drool from their chins after salivating all the way to the record store, Nick Lowe’s Thursday set list at the Pabst Theater was sort of a bummer. After all, this was the first time in over a decade that Lowe had brought a full band to Wisconsin—but for whatever reason, the producer and songwriting legend avoided his debut entirely. Still, Lowe’s set offered plenty of reward to the diehards that have followed him from 1979’s Labour of Lust to the inoffensive roots-rock of 2007’s Act My Age.
“I’m normally a Shank Hall guy, but this beautiful venue is a welcome change,” the 61-year-old writer shared with an audience largely comprised of 30-to-40-somethings. After running through a few tunes like “Heart,” “What’s Shakin’ on the Hill,” and “What Lack of Love Has Done” by himself with an acoustic guitar, Lowe summoned his backing band and kicked into “Raging Eyes” from 1983’s The Abominable Snowman. “Sometimes she’s soft/Sometimes she’s scaly/Her mama said that even back when she was a baby/She had raging eyes,” sang Lowe in his grainy tenor.
Most of the crowd didn’t seem too bent out of shape over the complete lack of power-pop gems like “So It Goes” or “I Love the Sound of Broken Glass.” In fact, some were more than happy to cut a rug to the honky-tonk cheese of “I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll,” or offer huge frat-boy shouts of approval during “Has She Got a Friend?” and “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide.” Throughout the set, the blurry hands of Geraint Watkins and the tasteful picking of guitarist Johnny Scott helped added vibrant color to the rhythmic backbone of drummer Robert Trehern and stand-up bassist Matt Radford. Lowe referred to the latter as a “retired babe magnet,” and joked that he hadn’t been playing with his longtime backing band because of its members’ extensive criminal records.
After Lowe and company closed the night with an awesome cover of Cliff Johnson’s rockabilly classic “Go Away Hound Dog,” a guy in the crowd could be overheard saying, “No ‘Broken Glass?’ What the fuck?” What the fuck, indeed. Hopefully next time, Milwaukee will get to hear something from Pure Pop instead of gazing longingly at the Pure Pop t-shirts at the merch stand.