TAKING THE LOWE ROAD TO COPLEY SQUARE
Taking the Loewe road to Copley Square
Nick Low - veteran of England's early-'70s pub-rock scene, clever new wave era popster, producer of much renown and, now, a country-rock solo artist - has seen a lot in his more than two decades in the businesss.
Today's topic: Rockers who get bottled off stage by unruly audiences.
"We were there on the weekend," says Lowe, from London, "and my band, the Impossible Birds got back together and went on before Evan Dando who went on before Portishead, who are hugely popular over here. They have a very volatile audience and poor Evan had a barrage of missiles throughout his set. I've found it to be a bad idea to say anything like, 'If you don't stop throwing that stuff, we're gonna go off!' Evan's bad mistake was he said, 'Go ahead, throw stuff at me,' which is something similar. It's the same message, too good to resist."
Lowe volunteers that he's been bottled off a few times himself. "Generally," he says, "in the early-'70s when we the band, Brinsley Schwarz used to play in Germany and the Communists used to storm the doors at gigs and we'd be up there doing our little country-rock shtick, which is not what they needed to hear. I had to flee, but, in my opinion - as long as you don't actually get hurt - you can feel more righteous about that happening than you can if you don't get any response whatsoever. So, I'd rather be bottled off than have a row of spud-faces lined up, looking disinterested."
So, for those of you planning to see Lowe's free, WBOS-sponsored solo set Thursday at Copley Square Park at 5:30, forewarned is forearmed or something like that. "Tomatoes and overripe fruit," Lowe recommends, tongue-in-cheek. "There's something rather endearing about throwing them at a performer."
Hey, skip the projectiles. Just be entertained by Lowe's wry, witty, often poignant mix of country and rock. During the new wave era, Lowe was viewed as a master pun-meister and humorist but he's distanced himself from that over the past decade.
"There's still an element of what I do in this whimsy department," he says, "but sometimes I made the mistake of overusing it. It turns people on and really gets on my nerves, although I recognize it's part of what I do. I consciously try and backpedal a little bit. It's still in the songs I write now, but they may be more heartfelt. The days when I did the quite hard-working puns and all that - I don't do that."
Lowe, who released "The Impossible Bird" on the Rounder-distributed Upstart earlier this year, is just playing this solitary date as a thank you to WBOS - "one of the few who play my records. But I like coming to Boston, any excuse, really."
He's been called the Brendan Behan of Celtic punk.
And it is a surly and slurry Shane MacGowan who's called away from the bar at Filthy McNasty's in London to chat on the phone one recent evening. As fate would have it, the tape recorder fails miserably, so the particulars of MacGowan's discourse are lost, but let's just say this: In Shane's world, rarely is heard an encouraging word. The former singer for the Pogues has just released his first post-Pogues record, The Snake, and - though it's excellent, a startling return-to-agitated-form - he's not happy about much of anything. On record, this may work - "Church of the Holy Spook," for instance, is a bitter paean to Catholicism, and "That Woman's Got Me Drinking" is a twisted, hurtling blame-and-drink song. There are little glimmers of hope strewn about the broken glass wreckage of the album. But on the phone, it's a torrent of negativity.
Among the objects of MacGowan's wrath: The Catholic church, which MacGowan was brought up in and which, he says, would crucify Jesus if he came back today; ZTT, his UK record company which he says delayed "The Snake" for two years; Warner Bros., his US label, which he says pulled the support money out for a two-gig tour (including Boston) plus David Letterman appearance in the spring; the duet with Sinead O'Connor on the old Pogues' song, "Haunted," which he says was forced upon him; the Pogues - contrary to other reports that had him sacked for irresponsibility and drunkenness, he says he'd been trying to leave for three years; journalists who persist in asking about his health.
Kirsty MacColl, who sang the wrenching duet "A Fairytale of New York" with MacGowan, says she saw him late last year. And? "You know, the same," she said. "He surrounds himself with a lot of people who are worse than him and that doesn't help."
Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien saw MacGowan in Stockholm this spring. How messed up was he? "Terribly," said O'Brien.
This latter is a real sticky point. MacGowan's health has been so fragile for so long - his self-abuse so public - it's a natural question, however delicate. To those who ask, MacGowan says - inexplicably enough - that they should ask themselves if they've got cancer. MacGowan, it would seem, hopes they do.
Said Billy Bragg, yesterday, in town to play a WFNX-sponsored gig at Fort Apache studio: "He's a great, great songwriter, and it's a real shame that he feels the need - or if he just has the need and it just happens to him - that he sort of wastes himself away like that."
MacGowan's at Avalon Aug. 8 with tix on sale today.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.