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Concert Reviews:
Nick Lowe brings Quality Holiday cheer to The Ark

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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ANN ARBOR -- One thing we learned during Nick Lowe's Quality Holiday concert Tuesday night, Dec. 9, at The Ark; if you want to have a REALLY good Christmas party, bring three guys who wear suits and Mexican wrestling masks and happen to be great musicians.

Los Straitjackets, who are backing and playing alongside British rock troubadour this month, stole the show on Tuesday, with Lowe fully complicit and seeming to enjoy it as much as anyone in the sold-out Ark crowd. And it was to his credit that he was willing to step out with a such a commanding live act and use the quartet to both his and the show's overall benefit, presenting a cheerful 28-song, 95-minute performance that blended Yuletide warmth with irreverent rock 'n' roll cheek.

And a bit of healing. Ian McLagan, the late Small Faces/Faces keyboardist who passed away suddenly last week, was supposed to be part of the Quality Holiday trek as well. He was warmly remembered throughout the night, by stand-in opening act Dan Kroha and by Lowe, who offered a moving verbal tribute to "our friend and hero" early in the show and said that he never seriously considered suggestions that the tour be canceled after McLagan's death. "Ian was the original Mr. Show Must Go On," Lowe told the Ark crowd. "There's no doubt in my mind what his disposition would be on that." Rather, Lowe said, he and Los Straitjackets chose to honor McLagen's "great gift of spreading good cheer."

Los Straitjackets, of course, don't speak, but their instrumental rendition of the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park" spoke volumes during the encore.

McLagan's absence lent a bit of gravitas to the night, but Lowe and Los Straitjackets tapped into that and spun it around into a celebration. Looking professorial in his heavy-framed glasses, Lowe took the stage solo first, promising the crowd at his "umpteenth" Ark appearance that "You're seeing the show jsut at the right time, almost entirely awesome -- but still a little bit of unpredictability." And his renditions of "Rose of England," "Long Limbed Girl" and the poignant "A Dollar Short of Happy" -- the first of several selections from his "Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For the Family" album -- were predictably strong and resonant.

Los Straitjackets joined Lowe towards the end of Moon Mullican's "Seven Nights to Rock," and thought the group's nature is, in fact, to rock it provided complementary, textured arrangements behind Lowe on songs such as "Only A Fool Breaks His Own Heart," "Christmas at the Airport," "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" and the Tex-Mex flavored "Somebody Cares For Me" as well as propelling the likes of "Raging Eyes," "Half a Boy and Half a Man," "Cruel to Be Kind" and "I Knew the Bride." Los Straitjacket's mid-show set, meanwhile, pounded the Ark with precision instrumentals, including takes on "Sleigh Ride" and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy," made famous in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

Lowe and Los Straitjackets also combined for a laid-back but still impactful version of "Peace, Love and Understanding," while the rockabilly romp "I Was Born in Bethlehem" sent the crowd home in festive, seasonal spirits -- and wondering if these guys, all of 'em, are available for house parties.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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