Second acts are increasingly common in rock and roll and there are no shortages of spandex-clad 55-year-olds trying to relive their glory days. Few have made the transition to elder pop-rock statesman as gracefully as Nick Lowe. The once brash new wave icon has evolved into a smooth purveyor of country-flavored soul music. His gifts for catchy pop melodies and irony-laden lyrics are alive and well as was in full evidence on Lowe’s brief stop in New York City to promote his stellar new album, At My Age.
In addition to a spot on Conan O’Brien last week, Lowe played a benefit concert on behalf of Housing Works, a charitable organization devoted to supporting the homeless living with HIV/AIDS. Alan Light, rock writer and editor of Spin Magazine organized the concert which took place at the Housing Works Used Book Café in New York’s Soho district. This charming book store has an interesting assortment of offbeat books, CDs, and rare LPs. There is also a café that serves wine and beer as well as more typical fare. The place is staffed entirely by volunteers and all the musicians performed without compensation.
At first glance, the place looks ill-suited for such an event. It’s a relatively long, narrow room bisected by two spiral staircases on either side. Yet it managed to hold nearly 300 people rather comfortably with about a third left standing. The vast majority of the audience was over the age of 40 and there was very little moshing in evidence.
The show was a triple bill and the two opening acts were unknown to most in the audience including myself. Renee Stahl is a singer songwriter with a beautiful voice and a penchant for melancholy pop (the name of her first album). She was accompanied by a guitarist who was introduced as Rich and a PC that laid down some drum tracks. She did a 25-minute set of mostly ballads. I thought she was quite good and she was very warmly received by the crowd.
Equally strong were a progressive blue grass band called King Wilkie from Virginia. They crammed six musicians onto a tiny stage including an upright bass player, a violinist, and a banjo player. The group played a 30-minute set of moving ballads and up-tempo country rockers. Their beautiful harmonies were also enthusiastically received by the audience.