Southern Fried Festival
Perth Concert Hall
28th July 2017
Stepping straight… well, twenty-four hours later… from a gig in which the stage was packed with performers, to one where two solo singer-guitarists appeared back to back, posed an interesting question. Could such a sparse format sustain interest for a whole evening? From no further back than the walkway dividing orchestra stalls from upper stalls both Jim Lauderdale and Nick Lowe almost seemed distant figures, where the night before Andy Fairweather Low’s guests had loomed large. However, one aspect of the evening which was totally under control was the sound balancing. In fact it was perfect, just how it needed to be for singer-songwriters, both of whom craft songs which demand to be listened to and not simply heard.
There was another question in my mind, which was there due to the fact that I had not followed Nick Lowe’s career since the days of Breaking Glass, and thus was completely unfamiliar with his wider songwriting corpus. That question was what had such a markedly and recognisably British songwriter to do with a festival of Americana? That’s not to question his ability as a songwriter nor as a performer, just that I went into the gig wondering whether he had been booked simply because he puts bums on seats and packs the concert hall with Nick Lowe fans. Well, as to what he had to do with Americana, you’ll find out what I concluded if you read this review to the end.
Certainly the issue of Americana was settled by the appearance of special guest Jim Lauderdale. A native of North Carolina, Jim’s solo act is full of sound due to his hard picking-and-strumming style. He does play with backing musicians, but on this occasion he was on his own on stage. We’re back to the sparse format issue, and how it worked, and the point was well made that we need to hear songs like The King Of Broken Hearts, Honky-Tonk Haze or Headed For The Hills with absolute clarity. The sound engineering was so well-handled that Jim (and later Nick) was able to make his vocals quiet and intimate. Headed For The Hills was an audience-participation number where we all joined in, not raising the roof but softly. If you get a chance to catch a Lauderdale gig, do so; I would recommend one where he is on his own, where there is no need for him to ‘fight’ with the sound of a backing band – just a personal observation, based on checking out YouTube.
Now to Nick Lowe. I think it’s often a good policy to send someone who is unfamiliar with, or has become out-of-touch with, a performer rather than a fan who has the latest CD and knows the words to every song, to see that performer in action. That fresh view taken will test whether the performer is a fan-pleaser or a general delight. Well, I’m in the out-of-touch bracket, and I’ll give you my general verdict before going into particulars: as a British songwriter who has been building up a corpus for forty years or more, he’s on a par with Richard Thompson. That’s the stature I think Nick Lowe has, without a shadow of a doubt.
As for the Americana issue, there is nothing about Nick’s songwriting and singing that is directly American, but during his performance I could hear distinct echoes of Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Everly Brothers, Dwight Yoakam, Chuck Berry, and even Marty Robbins. It’s almost as though he’s saying “I’m a songwriter’s songwriter,” and establishing his milieu. But he’s a listener’s songwriter too. Nick’s songs are all short – that’s the influence of the 45, of course, which all of us of Nick’s age and older grew up with. Their brevity means that he can fill an entire evening with them, back-to-back, with very little chat, except to tell us that there would be very little chat! That didn’t matter, as the atmosphere of the concert was like we were spending an evening with an old friend. Let’s face it, that was exactly what his fans were doing, even if they weren’t bopping in the aisles.
It’s hard to pick stand-out songs from the evening. Even the ones I recognised – Cruel To Be Kind, I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll, and What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding – were no more beguiling than the ones I didn’t know. If you’re a Nick Lowe fan you’ll know exactly where and when he’s performing next. If you’re not – not yet – I would make a point of finding out.
Reviewed by Paul Thompson