Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Cruel and the Kind: Nick Lowe & Ron Sexsmith at the Artscenter

Last night saw two very different philosophies d'amore share a very strong common musical bond. Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith have more in common than just being on the same label (Yep Roc). The most obvious gift they share is a love of songcraft; which was fully on display last night.

Ron Sexsmith started the evening off with a terrific set of songs both old and new. The very first number (one of my favorites, "Former Glory") set the tone for a heart-on-the-sleeve performance. A significant portion of his set was material from his new U.S. record "Time Being" which will be released this summer. A particular standout from this section of the show was "Jazz at the Bookstore." Which speaks about the search for authenticity in the contrivances that are coffee shops and bookstores these days.

Jazz at the bookstore
And Blues in the coffee shop

There's a man standing at the crossroads
With a dark roast in his hand
Living in white yuppy hand
Over by the milk and sugar stand

Other memorable songs were "Cheap Hotel" (the story of an abused wife and mother making her getaway), "Never Give Up" and two chestnuts from the early Ron Sexsmith catalog; "Strawberry Blonde" and "Secret Heart." Opined Sexsmith, "Everybody has covered this song (Secret Heart) and I'm still not rich yet..." With clear voice and nuanced, evocative guitar playing this was an amazing opening set.

The ever dapper Nick Lowe followed up with a set of old and new material as well. A striking difference in style, if not form, made this set musically lean and focused. Harkening back to classic songs and song stylists like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Sam Cooke, Nat Cole, to name but a few, all factor into the Nick Lowe style.

Some of the old up-tempo classics helped keep this mostly crooned set lively. Songs like "I knew the Bride", the 1979 "Cruel to Be Kind" (which made the US Top 40) were in direct counterpoint to songs like "All Men are Liars" and "Where's My Everything" (featuring the bitter lyric "Where is the beautiful family home / That I was promised on the news at 10.")

Alot of Lowe's lyrics are directly observational. Songs like "People Change" or "Lately I've Let Things Slide" are straight up reporting from the trenches of experience. Particularly effective among the slower numbers were "The Beast in Me" (written for ex-father-in-law Johnny Cash) and the brand new "I Read Alot."

So after lifting you up and sending you crashing back down thematically, Nick makes it alright after all by closing with the ever true, not even remotely ironic "Whats So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding."

Practically the highlight of the evening was the encore called "My Baby's Gone" (by the Louvin Brothers) featuring these two great singers harmonizing together. I would gladly pay to see that for an entire show.

ADDENDUM: props to Lintqueen for the encore songtitle.


lintqueen said...

Holden - do you know the name to that last song they did together? I must have it...

Holden Richards said...

I sure don't lets put that out there - what was that song...

lintqueen said...

I found it -- I have *mad* Google-fu! It's called "My Baby's Gone" and was done by (at least) the Louvin Brothers (


Jeff Hart said...

yep, tom meltzer reminded me it's a louvins' song. steve howell used to have it as a staple in his post-backsliders repertoire.

considering my "new" situation, ron's opening song "former glory" had me thinking i would have to exit at some point in the procedings to get a bigger hanky ;) tremendous choice as an opener.

so happy that nick worked in some rockers. i was fully prepared for the balladeer style based on his recent output, but i was pleasantly surprised to see the old nuggets reappear.

it's as good a two man acoustic set as i've ever seen. i can't even think of one to compare.

Ann Marie Simard said...

How utterly awesome a combination. I was listening to Secret Heart limewired earlier this morning... and they opened with Former Glory? Fantastic! That song makes me feel so good.