At age 63, Nick Lowe is content to be making music that’s a little more age-appropriate.
That means you won’t find the legendary British songwriter and producer, known for working on records by Elvis Costello and The Damned, jumping around very much onstage anymore the way he did in the ’70s with his garage rock groups Brinsley Shwarz or Rockpile.
Though known as a pivotal and influential force in the early days of British punk rock, Lowe has branched out to alternative country and American roots music since the ’80s — his last four albums, including last year’s “The Old Magic,” particularly exemplify his somewhat gentler approach.
“There’s something rather unseemly about some old guy pretending he’s in his 20s still, jumping up and down, making a fuss,” he said recently from his home in London. “I try to do stuff that is appropriate to my age and my standing in the community — I don’t want to embarrass anyone.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
How Much: $29.50
More Info: 473-1845, www.theegg.org
Far from embarrassment, Lowe has hit upon a winning formula of sorts on his recent records — still decidedly rock ’n’ roll, but with a worldliness and introspective nature not found on his earlier work. Perhaps most surprisingly to him, his latter work has gained the attention of a generation too young to remember his biggest U.S. hit, “Cruel to Be Kind,” or the rest of his early, garage-oriented rock.
That phenomenon was only strengthened when Wilco asked Lowe to open up for the band solo in September of last year. Since then, Lowe has brought his full band to the U.S. for a spring tour and is back for a short solo headlining tour that kicks off at The Egg on Tuesday night.
“Last time I was here with the band, it was very obvious that people had come to see us who had seen me open for Wilco,” he said. “They were much younger — a lot of younger people at the shows, and a lot more women as well. It’s just a lot more fun. I’m pretty lucky; I’ve got a pretty good audience, but I can always do with an injection of new blood.”
He will of course tackle all of his best-known songs at these shows — 1979’s “Cruel to Be Kind”; “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” a hit for Elvis Costello in 1978; and “So it Goes,” among others. But he has found that the audiences coming to see him now really are more interested in the newer songs.
“Even before Wilco, I was picking up a new audience, and they actually don’t know very much about my old stuff,” he said. “A lot of the people that dug what I did when I first started coming to the U.S. in the ’70s, quite a lot of them dropped away — they don’t really like what I do anymore.”
Plenty of the old Lowe sense of humor does crop up throughout “The Old Magic,” from lead-off track “Stoplight Roses” to the tongue-in-cheek “Sensitive Man,” which recently got an equally tongue-in-cheek music video, Lowe’s first in 18 years, from director Scott Jacobson.
Back when Lowe was still producing records, he earned the nickname “Basher” for his down-and-dirty, live recording style. Though not interested in producing other artists’ records today, he still co-produces his own in much the same style.
“I record in a sort of, pretty old-fashioned way,” he said. “We record live, I do the singing and I sing the songs at the same time we play them, as opposed to doing everything in layers. That way, we stand a chance of getting some little atmosphere on the record, which is very pleasing — to me, very pleasing, at least.”
The recording is stripped down and intimate, following the flow of his previous three albums — often Lowe’s rough baritone is accompanied only by acoustic guitar or piano and light percussion. That means the songs translate easily to the acoustic solo setting, something that he has always been conscious of.
“In a way, the songs are being written in such a way that they’ll work under any circumstances — the best songs I’ve done are like that,” he said. “They all make sense, they stand up; you can put a flavor of the record in it, but it’s at its most basic when I’m singing and it’s just acoustic guitar.”
Some of Lowe’s best-known recordings include Costello’s first five albums, from 1977’s “My Aim is True” through 1981’s “Trust,” as well as the first Damned album, “Damned Damned Damned,” in 1977. But by the mid-’80s, he had stopped producing records, finding his own preferences for recording to be against the grain of the polished ’80s mind-set.
“I realized my time had come and gone — there was a seismic change in the way people made records in the ’80s, and it really elbowed people like me out of the way,” he said.
“The way I produced records, I used to behave as a cross between a cheerleader and a sort of counselor, and I used to really enjoy that. I would go into the studio with a band, a solo person, musicians, and be really encouraging them to take it as far as they could and just create a good feeling in the studio, and see if you could really come up with something that told a story and was entertaining. Sometimes I was right, but quite often I was wrong, and in the ’80s you had to be right — whether it was any good or not, you had to be right all the time. There was no room to go in and tell the money man, ‘Sorry, the boys weren’t in the mood.’ ”
Entertaining the crowd
When performing live, though, Lowe prefers not to have himself or his audience thinking too much about the material. These days, it is about entertaining a crowd, and he is happy with that.
“I can give them something that is, well, really quite undemanding,” he said. “I know I’m not supposed to say that — I’m supposed to be far more angst-ridden. But I’m in the entertainment business, and I want people to have a good time when they see me. Which is not to say I want to do a bunch of wet, soppy stuff — there’s got to be a little grit in the thing to make the songs interesting.”
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