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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
July 9th 2009


Lowe and Cooder
It’s not often I moan about tickets being expensive; after all, everything is relative isn’t it? But I was a little taken aback to find that it was likely to cost me £75 a seat to see Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder perform together in Edinburgh, in what at the time was billed as their only UK appearance.
Yes, I was suckered by that one again, because by the time the gig came around it was part of a neat UK tour taking in (amongst others) Belfast, Liverpool and London, in turn a leg of a European tour that has now gone to Japan, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, the USA. So much for exclusive. But think of it this way: when did Cooder last play in the UK? How many chances do you get to see him? And when, since their Little Village collaboration with John Hiatt and Jim Keltner back in 1992, did he last play with Nick Lowe? I can’t honestly remember when Cooder was last in the UK, but I do know I saw him in Glasgow back in the 1980s (the stage and house lights failed at the horrible SEC and he played about a third of the set in the dark), and he may have been here since then, but not often. So like I said, it’s relative. And who really knows what the market’s worth? In terms of recent gigs, seventy-five pounds is almost worth two Bruce Springsteens, or apparently two Bert Janschs, three-and-a-half Buzzcocks, four and a bit Sonny Landreths, a three-day ‘early bird’ ticket to this year’s Rhythm Festival (of which more soon) and one Michael Jackson (deceased). But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Bruce has been playing in the UK almost annually for the past three or four years, Bert two or three or more times a year, the Buzzcocks once or twice a year, and the same with Sonny. You can get these guys almost anytime. The reclusive Cooder might never come back. Cooder and Lowe together: who knows if the chance will ever be repeated? And even if it is, this time round you could say you were there for the first one, the original. But hang on, here’s another consideration. Will it be any good? I mean, they both have outstanding individual reputations but together, with no recordings to sample in advance? It’s simply a lot of money to pay for a transient hour-and-a-half of aural stimulation. But everything is relative.
The great lafayette
The Great Lafayette
And as it happens, I wasn’t the only one to take the plunge. We’re inside the lovely old Festival Theatre, or Empire Theatre, as it was formerly known. The early twentieth century interior, installed following a catastrophic fire in 1911 which claimed the life of the famous illusionist, The Great Lafayette, was restored to its former glory from Bingo House squalor in the early 1990s. It is in stark contrast to the modernistic glass frontage and entrance that was built concurrently.
The boy and I are in row E in the centre of the front stalls – and the whole block is packed. The rear and side stalls (tickets being sold for a couple of weeks before the gig at two for £35) are almost empty, and there aren’t a lot of people upstairs. So it was the real enthusiasts who decided that there was genuine value in the ticket price. And it has to be said they were not to be disappointed: frankly, were it not for the fact that I’d already decided to write about it, I would have forgotten what I paid by the time I left the theatre on an enormous high. It was, if you know what I mean, one of those gigs where everyone leaves with a huge smile on their face. And when they think about it later (years later) they will still smile.
What an odd couple Lowe and Cooder are. There’s lanky Nick Lowe, with sharp creased trousers, a retro sports shirt, and that perfect coiffure, bass swinging low (I haven’t seen him play the bass for years, and remembered how effortlessly good he is), his left knee twitching like a crazed metronome. Cooder is jeans, t-shirt, jacket and bandana. He crouches over his guitar, a furrowed brow and worried frown on his face every time he starts to move his slide for another perfectly impossible riff, the expression changing to astonishment when it actually works. Lowe marvellously sweet-voiced, Cooder gruff and bluesy, with that uncanny ability to add in a spoken “You know it’s true”, or “Yes sir” just at the perfectly-syncopated moment. The referee is Joachim Cooder, fluently elegant on the drums, never too much, never too little, and on backing vocals and percussion for almost all of the set, support act Juliet Commagere and her keyboard player Alex Lilly.
Cooder Lowe
Ry Cooder (L) and Nick Lowe (R)
Lowe and Cooder exchanged songs throughout the set, both looking back and forward. So Lowe’s contributions ranged from ‘Tearstained memories’ and ‘A fool who knows’, both from Little Village, his bubblegum hit, ‘Half a boy and half a man’, the Jim Reeves classic ‘He’ll have to go’, a new song (I think), ‘One of these days you’re going to pay’, and as part of the encore, ‘What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding’. Cooder’s contributions began with a medley of ‘Fool for a cigarette’ and ‘Feeling good’, and went on to include ‘Chinito chinito’ from the wonderful Chavez Ravine, and classics like ‘Crazy ‘bout an automobile’, a particularly funky ‘Down in Hollywood’, ‘The very thing that makes you rich (makes me poor)’, ‘Jesus on the mainline’, the beautifully delicate ‘Teardrops will fall’ (which listening to it could have been written by Lowe) and ‘Little sister’. Finally the trio played ‘How can a poor man stand such times and live’, with such an introduction from Cooder, who can make a single guitar note go a very long way, that my notebook observes ‘perfect, enough to make you cry’.
Not that anyone was. “How is it out there?” asked Lowe in one of his digressions. “It sounds good up here on stage, which is all we really care about”. Well, Nick, it sounded good in the seven-and-fives too. And if the audience was divided on anything it was only that Cooder loyalists felt Lowe had held Ry back, while the Lowe fanatics thought there was just too much Cooder. Me, I was in the middle: it was simply perfect. And guess what, I’m still smiling as I write. – Nick Morgan
Listen: Ry Cooder and nick Lowe on Youtube

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