“So many songs, so little time,” Nick Lowe said Tuesday in the Swyer Theatre at The Egg, as he closed the first show of a solo acoustic tour.
Then he launched into a fervent, loss-stricken “Allison.” This last encore followed raucous rockers “Without Love,” “I Used to Know the Bride When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll,” “When I Write the Book About My Love” — he recalled playing it here in his Rockpile days — and the hoist-the-anchor farewell, “Tokyo Bay.”
Now past 60, Lowe may still be best known from his team-player days in Brinsley Schwarz, Rockpile, Cowboy Outfit and Little Village; and as Elvis Costello’s first producer. On Tuesday, he echoed both Costello in high-pathos paeans of loss and Elvis Presley in rollicking rockabilly.
He had less voice than both, but as much feel as either. And for all his rough-and-ready reputation as the “Basher” famed for first-take recordings, his mic technique impressed all night.
Audience affection blew away the nervousness Lowe acknowledged early, and he loosened up fast, showing real nerve by opening with the new “Stoplight Roses,” a song about betrayal, shame and karma, before dipping into his catalog for “Heart,” with a country feel he held through “What’s Shakin’ on the Hill.” He revved into rockabilly with “Long-Limbed Girl,” another wistful look back that deepened when he confessed “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide,” whose theme of neglect and desolation intensified later in the new “House for Sale.”
Encouraged by fans’ recognition of even his newest numbers, Lowe sang plenty from his fresh album “The Old Magic” — the crown jewel in the second act of a team player turned troubadour, with intrepid results. Mixing old and new became no problem as Lowe lamented loves lost and discarded. He went all wicked with the vengeful “I Trained Her to Love Me,” bitter self-pity powering righteous revenge.
Lowe told Gazette writer Brian McElhiney: “It’s most basic when I’m singing and it’s just acoustic guitar,” adding, “There’s got to be a little grit in the thing to make the songs interesting.”
And there were so many interesting songs — 20 tunes in 80 minutes that moved very quickly.
Opener Eleni Mandell comprehensively charmed the two-thirds-full house with a crazy-candid “journey through my failed relationships.” She didn’t need the natural sympathy that greeted her self-definition as a single mom with twins turning 2; instead, she engaged the crowd in terrible, but unfailingly witty, tales of “boyfriends, then and now.”
Musically, the “then” was the old-school (30s, 40s) languid pop feel of her opener, citing “houses on a hillside” getting undressed, the self-pitying musings of “I’m Lucky” and “The Sunny Side of the Street,” in which she whistled and unashamedly got lost.
The “now” was her failed wish to be promiscuous, a failure that led to powerful attachments and heartbreak. She went breathy-emphatic on the indicting “He Lied,” announced as the loudest song in the show, but she was always well-mannered, clever and cool, backhanding her tiny Martin with fingernails and inviting listeners to imagine guitar solos her songs didn’t need.