Nick Lowe live at the Leicester Square Theatre

5 stars (out of 5)

2


Well, back at the Leicester Square Theatre again. I knew that this was a great venue for comedy, but it’s also a great venue for an intimate gig like this one, with a capacity of about 500 and 2 bars; it’s comfortable and you don’t wait 45 minutes for a drink. The sound was crystal clear all night and the audience was knowledgeable and appreciative; all you need now is good performances. I’ve seen Nick Lowe a few times in the past, including the first proper gig I saw. There’s a great story behind that gig, but I’m saving that for the book.

The tour is in support of the latest album “The Old Magic” but, as Nick Lowe points out, the set is structured to include old favourites going back to the early 70s. The fun starts with a 30 minute solo set from the band’s keyboard player, the legendary Geraint Watkins, who plays a mixture of ballads and boogie-woogie and wins the audience over with his musings between songs, great playing and a very powerful voice.

After the interval, Nick Lowe takes the stage on his own to start the set with a solo acoustic version of “Stoplight Roses”, the opening song from “The Old Magic”. From the outset, it’s obvious that he’s a great performer; he doesn’t do anything too showy but it’s all entertaining. He gently reassures the audience (probably unnecessarily) by explaining that he won’t play lots of new songs that they don’t know but we get about half of the new album and the audience know the songs anyway.

After 2 songs, Lowe is joined by the Geraint Watkins (keyboards), Robert Treherne (drums), Johnny Scott (guitar) and Matt Radford (double bass). They’re all great players and 3 of the 4 contribute tight harmonies as well. This isn’t about huge productions and pyrotechnics; it’s about 5 great musicians performing great songs for an audience that actually listens.

As well as “The Old Magic” material, we heard a sprinkling from “Dig My Mood”, “The Impossible Bird” and “The Convincer”, all performed with great skill and taste by a great group of players. Predictably, the big hits got the best response. “Cruel to be Kind” was popular and a rockabilly version of “I Knew the Bride” raised the roof, but the best was saved till last.

The encores feature a duet with Geraint Watkins on “Only a Rose” (a Watkins song), a stripped-down version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and a final, final solo encore performance of the Elvis Costello song “Alison” performed perfectly with only his own acoustic guitar as backing. Most of the audience were surprised (actually gobsmacked) at the inclusion of “Alison”, but it’s a great song and he did produce the original version after all.

This was a night for anyone interested in hearing great songs played well by great musicians with a minimum of fuss. Nick Lowe has been in the business for over 40 years and all of his experience is channelled into creating a great performance which showcases the songs and the musicianship (along with some very dry and laconic interludes) while making the whole enterprise look very easy. “The Old Magic” is definitely worth listening to if you haven’t had a chance to see the band, but you could do a lot worse than to dig out any of Nick Lowe’s back catalogue.  If you haven’t heard of Geraint Watkins, then it’s worth checking him out as well.