Rychard Carrington reports on Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith - Cambridge Corn Exchange, 19 May 2009

Nick Lowe
Cambridge Corn Exchange, The



It's somewhat surprising to see the much respected Ron Sexsmith in the role of support act. He probably wouldn't be doing this were it not for his obvious affinity with Nick Lowe - an evident personal friendship and an equally evident compatability of style (Sexsmith even performed Lowe's Where's My Everything?). Yet they come from contrasting places: Lowe the rocker-around-town who hung out where it was at, Sexsmith the acoustic loner (or, more literally, Surrey and Ontario). There's something vaguely, inherently forlorn about Ron Sexsmith - the surname is very inappropriate. He always seems like the guy who's too pleasant to be hip, too gentle and honest to get the girl. His songs, though,  are really in a mainstream of everyman's angst, i.e. mostly about love, but written and sung in a way that makes them resonate with our actual experience, not hollow songwriters' fodder. It's so right that he performs solo, accompanying himself with modestly impressive guitar, and singing in a beautiful, tender voice, understating deep emotion. The forty-five-year-old Canadian is a great songwriter and a great singer. He has a loyal following and much critical appreciation, but he deserves more public success.


Nick Lowe is even more of a master. At the age of sixty he looks so different from his Jesus Of Cool persona of 1978; in fact he looks like a straight-laced  elderly uncle. There's something of a country feel to his current sound, but really his style is just mature pop, wise yet unafraid of sentiment. One feels tonight that all kosher pop genres mature into something like this, if you leave them along enough, and certainly Lowe has been involved with several. The songs he sung tonight would suit Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Elvis Costello, Sam Cooke, Leonard Cohen or Billie Holiday. Now Lowe plays acoustic guitar, solo for a few songs, but otherwise most ably backed by Geraint Watkins on keyboards, Johnny Scott on electric guitar, Robert Treherne on drums and Matt Radford on double bass. And what of the Nick Lowe of Stiff Records fame? There was no Breaking Glass, but Cruel To Be Kind fitted in perfectly, and I Knew The Bride got things nicely hot as we drew towards the end. The closing number of the main set was the brilliant (What's So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding. Hearing this hippie anthem sung as a country lament by a performer most associated with new wave somehow proves a circle unbroken - everything comes down to honest sentiment negotiating a hard world, lonely and perplexed. Then the encores: Lowe solo again for the tender frankness of The Beast In Me, then duetting with Sexsmith on The Louvin Brothers' My Baby's Gone (how impressive that they can make such a familiar scenario emotionally raw), before the band return to perform Geraint Watkins's One More Rose, and  Rockpile's When I Write The Book. A great night of sentimental song, expertly written and powerfully performed.


Writer: Rychard Carrington