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Hamptons Life

Jun 15, 2018 3:09 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Interview: Nick Lowe Heads To Westhampton Beach With Los Straitjackets

Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets will play at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Sunday.   JIM HERRINGTON
Jun 15, 2018 4:04 PM

Nick Lowe is a certified rock-and-roll icon—the American Association of Independent Music bestowed the label officially in 2017 with its Independent Icon Award. He has written a stone-cold rock standard, “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” For 40 years, he’s been a pillar of roots rock, standing tall, like a lighthouse, as the currents shifted and splashed around him.

So—how did the 69-year-old icon end up on stage with a bunch of guys in colorful Mexican wrestling masks?

“In the beginning, it would be a little unnerving, in the dressing room. I was going, ‘My God, this is so weird,’” Mr. Lowe acknowledged in a recent phone call from London, speaking of his backing band, Los Straitjackets, with whom he will appear on Sunday, June 24, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. “But I’m so used to being with them now, I don’t even notice that they have masks on.”

It helps that behind the masks lurk one of the finest instrumental bands in music today: a triple-guitar attack featuring Eddie Angel, Danny Amis and Greg Townson, with Pete Curry on bass, and Chris Sprague on drums. With Memphis roots dating back 30 years, Los Straitjackets are label mates with Mr. Lowe and share a manager—and now, frequently, share a stage as well.

“They make what they do look really simple, which is their great skill. But it’s anything but,” Mr. Lowe said of his fellow musicians. He was an admirer of their music for years, he said, before they joined up for shows supporting Mr. Lowe’s 2013 Christmas album, “Quality Street.”

“It was pretty good fun. People really liked it,” he said of the live shows that resulted. “To be quite honest, it was barely a Christmas show. Really, it was just an excuse to have a Christmas-themed rock ’n’ roll show.” Soon, the tour continued to Europe, and they “threw all the Christmas stuff out.”

What links the two acts is an affinity for a particular strain of music. “I’ve always liked … well, rock ’n’ roll. I’ve never liked ‘rock’ music,” Mr. Lowe explained, identifying the former as “slightly more jumping and rhythmic, and kind of funny.” Which may help explain the Mexican wrestling masks.

Nick Lowe has been a constant in music since forming Brinsley Schwarz, a legendary English “pub rock” band in the 1970s, a brand of music that evolved into London’s earliest version of punk. But the music had its own roots in skiffle, a combination of jazz, folk and blues music that influenced a great many British bands, including The Beatles.

“Lonnie Donegan, his records had this fantastic swing to them,” he said, name-checking the “King of Skiffle.” “I didn’t know it at the time—none of us did—but we were getting a great lesson in country and western music, and the blues. We didn’t know who Big Bill Broonzy or Leadbelly were. But we knew Lonnie Donegan.”

He added, “I’ve never really got over that. I’ve always loved that sort of stuff.”

Pub rock cultivated an attitude from which punk was born, and Nick Lowe was a midwife. The guy who once released an album called “King of Cool” notes that, back then, “there was still a kind of mainstream to rebel against. It seems like, these days, everyone is cool—even the stupid people.”

Mr. Lowe went on to a long and successful recording career as a solo artist, as well as part of the loose collective known as Rockpile. He tasted popular success with the band’s hit single “Cruel To Be Kind” in 1979, and dabbled in variations on the rock ’n’ roll theme in the years since.

He’s also a producer of great renown, responsible for Elvis Costello’s first five albums, the Damned’s first album, which is a punk classic, and has worked with the Pretenders, John Hiatt and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Late last year, he released an EP with Los Straitjackets, including the single “Tokyo Bay,” on which Mr. Lowe and the band tear through a song that sounds like a lost 1950s single. “It’s the kind of song that suits us both,” he said. “It feels like a kind of cover song, really. We both love doing it.”

For the PAC show on Saturday, he promises “a nice broad, entertaining show,” and says the smaller venue will allow something like a “conversation with the audience.” He added, “I don’t really want to do a recital, if you know what I mean. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Touring and playing live remains a joy for Mr. Lowe. “I’m very pleased I’m still able to tour, and not have to do some grim kind of retro ‘remember those fabulous ’70s?’ things,” he quipped. “I don’t feel like I do that. I feel like I can do exactly what I want to do.”

Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets will play at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main Street, Westhampton Beach, on Sunday, June 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45, $55 and $65. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

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