The Shepherd’s Bush Empire, on a school night, sees a crowd of largely fifty somethings out in force to see what on paper is the rather odd pairing of Nick Lowe, the ‘Jesus of Cool’ with the Nashville-based, Mexican wrestling mask-wearing, surf guitar band Los Straitjackets. In practice it is an absolute delight.
Now in his 70thyear and with a shock of white hair Nick Lowe has rediscovered his rockier roots. The two first got together at the suggestion of the band’s shared manager and record label. Last year Los Straitjackets put out an album of instrumental cover versions of Nick Lowe songs.
As Eddie Angel lead guitarist points out Lowe is not only a first class song writer, but also a master of melody which ensured a terrific album. The two have also recorded together with the excellent rockabilly-esque Tokyo Bay being released in 2018 and a further ep being released last month featuring four tracks three of which are Lowe originals.
As the five take the stage the sight is a little incongruous with the four lucha-libre clad musicians alongside Nick Lowe in white open-necked shirt and acoustic guitar, but then the music does the talking.
The set begins with 1978’s So It Goes, the first release on Stiff Records and is followed by Without Love from 1979’s Labour of Lust album, You Inspire Me features a delightful intro from Eddie Angel who, all night trades licks with the similarly superb guitar work of Greg Townson. 1990’s Shting Shtang sees the band really rock things up and this is continued with aforementioned Tokyo Bay that goes down a treat with the assembled.
Nick Lowe then announces that he is going back stage to ‘have a bath’ whilst leaving us in the more than capable hands of Los Straitjackets who treat us to a surf-guitar master class, including a delightful rendition of the Celine Dion song my Heart Will Go On as well as their own frenetic compositions Kawanga!, Space Mosquito and Itchy Chicken all of which showcase the phenomenal talent of Messrs Angel and Townson.
When Nick returns to the stage he plays the very melodic Half A Boy And Half A Man from the 1984 album Nick Lowe And His Cowboy Outfit. Next are two new songs Love Starvation and Blue On Blue, the latter a wonderful melancholic ballad. Cruel To Be Kind from 1979 is a tremendously catchy song that is delivered superbly with the silky smooth vocals of Nick.
Heart Of The City taken from the Jesus Of Cool album quickens the pace as the show moves towards a crescendo culminating with I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock ABrinsley Schwarznd Roll. The set is met with genuinely rapturous applause.
Los Straitjackets return to the stage and perform an instrumental before Nick re-joins the band for a splendid version of Rockpile’s When I Write the Book, followed in quick succession by the terrific ballad What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding? The final encore sees Nick cover Elvis Costello’s Alison.
This has been an absolutely superb review of the career of one of the most prolific and original contributors to the English music scene over the past 50 years complete with sublime musical accompaniment in the form of Los Straitjackets. Indeed, it was quite inspirational.
Review of Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 20thJune 2019 by Nick Kemp. Photos by Simon Jay Price.