I’ve been telling everyone within earshot how much better Nick Lowe was at Helsinki last week than he was two years ago at the Linda. Then I dug out my review of that show, discovered that it actually took place more than five years ago (!!!). Reading my gushy unqualified rave, I realized that the Helsinki show was, on paper, virtually the same show, and, in fact, I could easily change a few words and turn in my 2008 review now and it would be accurate.
But it wasn’t the same show, not by a long shot. Despite my drooling in 2008 (Fanboy? Moi? Absolutely!), my current recollection of that show (and I saw him the next night in Northampton, Mass., too) is that something was missing, something I can’t put into words. It was like solo Nick was strumming and singing and looking around for his band. Although, maybe it was just that I was looking around for his band. It generally struck me as a great show for Lowe fans, but maybe just a tolerable one for everyone else.
In any event, last week’s show at a jam-packed Helsinki (a packed Helsinki is as wonderfully cozy and intimate as the old micro-Helsinki was) was full, universal, warm, human. Nick’s voice was incredible, he was utterly comfortable, and he delivered every twisted and tragicomic nuance of his remarkable songs with elan and grace. The transformation from Basher to timeless troubadour is complete.
Opening with Rockpile’s “Heart” (name a better pop song; name one), Nick wandered mainly through his rich, recent catalog, singing sweet (“Where Is My Everything”), sad (“House for Sale,” “I’ve Let Things Slide”) and debased (“I Trained Her to Love Me”). No matter the mood, every song featured Nick’s trademark couplets, improbable and impossible rhymes that no one else would dare write, or even think about. There was the occasional unexpected cover (Cliff Richard’s “Travelin’ Light,” Elvis Costello’s “Alison”); but the song that brought the house down mid-set was “Dollar Short of Happy,” a new song co-written with Ry Cooder that’s on his upcoming holiday album Quality Street. Riotously hysterical. You will want to own this holiday album, especially if you generally hate holiday albums.
When he started strumming the chords to “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” I looked at my co-pilot and said, “Oh shit, I’m gonna cry.” Nick sang the song, slowly and quietly, almost the polar opposite of Elvis Costello’s, and I sat there and cried like a baby. And I wasn’t alone.