The Old Magic
Live Shot of Nick Lowe at La Zona Rosa
By Jim Caligiuri,
1:11PM, Wed. May 9, 2012
Last night’s performance by Nick Lowe at La Zona Rosa was his first appearance in Austin with a band in almost 20 years. Nevertheless, it was the opening and closing tunes – when he graced the stage solo – that stand out most.
In fact, the second encore, a stark rendition of old pal Elvis Costello’s “Allison,” was downright chilling, no matter that we’ve heard it 1,000 times.
Before that, the bandleader led keyboardist Geraint Watkins, guitarist Johhny Scott, bassist Matt Radford, and drummer Bobby Irwin through an hour-long set that was brief time-wise, yet packed with Lowe’s uncommonly easy stage presence and enough melody and lyrical wit to last for days.
The quintet juggled songs from deep in Lowe's catalog, including a couple of choice covers and tunes from his recent crooner phase. At times evoking the singer's UK pub rock roots, the band twanged “Raging Eyes,” gave breezy reading to the hit “Cruel to Be Kind” (“It’s still a good song,” Lowe shouted to its enthusiastic reception”), and got impossibly blue with “House for Sale” from last year’s The Old Magic.
The revival of Gene McDaniels’ 1961 soul chestnut “Tower of Strength,” composed by Burt Bacharach, demonstrated the breadth of the band’s capabilities along with a Farfisa-driven “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock & Roll)” that closed the set.
A testament to any song’s power is its ability to bend to different forms. That Lowe’s songs get rocked, folked, and crooned so many different ways, including a few with his own band, illustrates his unparalleled tunesmanship. One such display came during the first encore, a startlingly quiet “(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love & Understanding,” on which Lowe was joined by Wilco’s Pat Sansone and John Stirratt.
The duo opened the show as the less than impressive Autumn Defense, probably a debt paid for Lowe’s kick-off slot on the Wilco’s tour last fall. While their harmonies and acoustic guitars were the definition of shimmering, lyrically it was artfully rendered, yet embarrassing, poetry.