I saw Nick Lowe at Belly Up in San Diego

In my continuing quest to see every legendary songwriter I can, I bought a ticket for Nick Lowe at Belly Up as soon as it was available. I don’t know that I could quote much of the man’s back catalog but I’ve surely been aware of it. I’d heard a couple of his recent appearances on NPR and was stunned by the command he has of a song when it’s just his voice and guitar. He opened for Wilco last year and did a solo acoustic set. I didn’t catch that. But the Belly Up show was part of a solo acoustic tour.

I was especially entranced by Eleni Mandell who opened the show. I wasn’t familiar with her before the show but I immediately bought her CD. That’s a stunning endorsement from me. I buy digital releases but I rarely am so moved by a performer that I want to take her compact disc home with me.

Eleni Mandell at Belly Up

Eleni was charming and sly. She accompanies herself with a short scale acoustic guitar. Her playing is soft and minimal but the perfect complement to her lovely voice. She’s slightly jazzy and super cool onstage. She told funny stories and just sang the hell out of everything. She’s a great mix of classic and new and a perfect choice to open for Lowe. I’ll see her again.

The show was a seated show which I’ve never heard of for Belly Up but it made perfect sense (even, somehow in a world where Kris Kirstofferson is a standing show). I was in the second row in the center and soaked it up. Nick Lowe came out and immediately showed the aplomb that makes him such a statesman of rock ‘n’ roll.

He ran his big-bodied Gibson through a Fender tweed amp (I think) but also miked the guitar. Maybe the house sound was the mic and the amp was just his monitor — however they did it, he had a big acoustic guitar sound. He opened with “Stoplight Roses” from his new album. It’s a gentle song that benefitted from the big sound.

Then he walked through a stunning catalog of material punctuated with the funny stories and comments of a true showman. He played all the ones I know, a couple of those being songs that Elvis Costello made famous. More than a time or two he made me wonder if Costello has just been doing a Nick Lowe impression for the past 40 years.

He played for an hour and left the stage. He returned for a short encore (two songs, I believe) and left again. He walked back on once more, played “Allison” and departed. It was one of the most solid shows I’ve ever seen.

All my photos from the show are on my Flickr.