THE JESUS OF HEP
Eli Paperboy Reid
Linda Norris Auditorium
April 30, 2008
Talk about aging gracefully. Nick Lowe, alone with an acoustic guitar, put on a simply beautiful and uncommonly dignified show to a packed house of devotees at the Linda, his first Albany appearance in (I think) 23 years, when he played the second JB Scotts with his rock-a-billy band The Cowboy Outfit.
Dressed in grey slacks and a white shirt, Lowe touched on all facets of his rough-and-tumble career, from the pure pop of “Heart” and “When I Write the Book” to the more pensive Americana-styled songs from his recent albums. He avoided the wackier tunes that so endeared him to late-70’s rock nerds—we didn’t hear anything about breaking glass, castrating Castro, or winners who became doggies’ dinners—but got a load of his incredible staring-into-the-void masterpieces, like “The Beast in Me” and “I’ve Let Things Slide,” songs that translate powerfully when sung solo in an intimate atmosphere. The clever word-play and the improbable rhyme schemes have always been there in spades, but Lowe has replaced the more manic imagery of his songs with a sturdy gravitas and cock-sure delivery. Not for nothing they call him The Jesus of Cool.
But this wasn’t a mope-fest, either; a brand new song, the super-quiet “I Read A Lot,” got an hysterical intro, and after, as the applause was peaking, Lowe yells “and the cavalcade of hits keeps coming!” and charges into pop-nugget “Cruel to Be Kind.” And he played, as a rejoinder to a couple of songs that could (wrongly) be interpreted as misogynistic, the absurdist “All Men Are Liars,” with its out-of-nowhere takedown of ‘80’s pop curiosity Rick Astley.
The biggest revelation of the night was the quality of Lowe’s voice, and how he wrapped it around the brilliantly-wrought songs. This was never more apparent than with the set closing “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding,” delivered down-tempo with Lowe squeezing meaning and warmth out of every single word, reclaiming and rebranding his best known song, for so long an angry Elvis Costello vehicle, as one of hope, and, yes, peace, love, and understanding.
Young Boston soul-shouter Eli “Paperboy” Reid should probably not venture out with out his band. Reid, who looks like a cross between Tony Dow and Ron Zeigler, sure has his bad-ass schtick down cold, right down to the pinky rings on each hand, but his retro-soul thing doesn’t fly while he’s struggling to keep up with himself on electric guitar. That being said, his new record sizzles, the cat can flat-out sing and I’m dying to see the full Paperboy treatment. Somebody bring ‘em all over here for a gig. Quick.