Consistent, an across-the-board euphemism for bland the last decade or so, shows itself to be a distinguished standard in the career of Nick Lowe. At every step of the way, Lowe has distinguished himself as a songwriter, producer and performer and even now, while he’s releasing relaxed and comfy discs on the indie Upstart label, he delivers an impeccable show.
For an hour and a half Wednesday, a cheerful Lowe roamed through his varied songbook and occasionally touched on the after-hours, lounge textures of his current “Dig My Mood” disc. He started solo with a nylon-string acoustic guitar, performing gentle yet spry selections such as “Cruel to Be Kind” and John Hiatt’s “She Don’t Love Nobody.”
With Gerant Watkins leading his trio on keyboards, the band progressively built a head of steam with faithful versions of Lowe’s work, save for a slightly tempered rendition of “Crackin’ Up” from Lowe’s debut masterpiece of 1978, “Pure Pop for Now People.” Lowe alternated between guitar and his customary bass, exhibiting his range and mastery of the pop idiom in the new tender ballad “You Inspire Me,” the gurgling “True Love Travels on a Gravel Road” and a buoyant “The Rose of England.”
Lowe has long been a student of sweet country and its influence on rock — check out 1994’s “The Impossible Bird” where it’s omni-present — and his combination of plaintive and wishful lyrics with witty twists puts him a step ahead of the post-Everly Brothers pack. Were Buddy Holly still alive and performing today, his act would be comparable to Lowe’s.
Songwriters Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham opened with a low-key 45 minutes of the classics they’ve written for others: “I’m Your Puppet,” “Cry Like a Baby,” “Do Right Man,” “Dark End of the Street” and on and on. Their sparse performance, Penn on acoustic guitar and Oldham on keyboards, had the feeling of a demo tape come to life. Both displayed taste and humor, breaking up the show with nicely timed anecdotes.