Yep Roc 20
Photo by Grant Britt
Friday, October 20, 2017
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro
When Yep Roc throws a party, the label doesn't mess around. The three-day bash celebrating the its anniversary kicked off with a high-roller party at the Cat's Cradle Back Room, exclusive for VIP ticket holders only, featuring Nick Lowe, Tift Merritt, Grant-Lee Phillips. The Friday night show in the Cradle's main room was more of some of the same, with some extra added guests and attractions.
Appearing as an opener for Friday night's show was a rare occurrence for Alejandro Escovedo. His punk roots were showing early in his set, and he kept digging away, exposing more ashe progressed. From the jangly garage rock of “Horizontal,” from his latest LP, Burn Something Beautiful
, to the Stonesy, Chuck Berry-inspired vibe of “Castanets,” Escovedo rocked like a man half his sixty-six years. He spent a lot of in-your-face time with guitarist Mitch Easter, his back to the audience as the two jammed toe to toe. The crowd was rapt, singing along with the “woah-ho ho-ho” chorus of “Sally Was a Cop,” swaying gently with the weepy pedal steel and Easter's twangy guitar accompaniment on “Rosalie.”
Photo by Grant Britt
Australian folkie Darren Hanlon had the unenviable task of following Escovedo. But with wry, John Prine-ish tunes like “Lapsed Catholic,” he managed to hold the near-capacity crowd's attention throughout his solo acoustic set. Josh Rouse kept the proceedings low-key, too, with his Paul Simonized-folk/pop. Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets were the main attraction, with fans packed shoulder to shoulder from the back door to the lip of the stage.
Looking like a genteel grandad, Lowe proved he was still a rocker, running through his back catalog with the muscular musical backing of Los Straitjackets. Lowe and the Straitjackets have toured together for the past three holiday seasons, and the Straitjackets have just released a tribute album of instrumental Lowe covers, What's So Funny About Peace Love and Los Straitjackets
, on Yep Roc. The label also put out Lowe's 2009 record, Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe
, a forty-nine-track compilation of his greatest hits followed by 2011's The Old Magic. Live, Los Straitjackets added punch to Lowe's material, like “Shting-Shtang,” “I'm A Sensitive Man,” and “Half a Boy and Half a Man.”
Lowe showed off his country side with the twang of “Tokyo Bay.” Lowe started his career in 1969 with Brinsley Schwarz, rocking along with bands including Last Chicken in the Shop and Rockpile before smoothing out his rock edges to become a crooner later in his career. But with Los Straitjackets behind him, Lowe's Buddy Holly glasses are put to good use as he retro-rockabillies his way through the set.
You'd think Los Straitjackets would overwhelm anybody who dared to get on stage with them with their Mexican full face luchador masks and aggressive mix of surf and rockabilly propelled by the twin leads of Danny Amis and Eddie Angel. But the band works well with Lowe, framing him perfectly in its sights
without running him over. Lowe left the stage for a few numbers while Los Straitjackets thundered and surfed through its back catalogue with “Kawanga,” “Space Mosquito,” and “Brooklyn Slide,” but returned as the band segued into something that sounded suspiciously like an instrumental version of Bo Diddley's “Who Do You Love?,” the walls vibrating with that signature Diddley heartbeat.
Lowe's “I Knew the Bride” brought down the house, the gray-haired crowd hopping up and down gleefully. Los Straitjackets laid down a thunderous rendition of “Theme from Batman” for an encore, and Lowe finished up with his composition,“(What' s So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."
Eli "Paperboy" Reed
, standing at the edge of the stage watching the first part of Lowe's show, looked rather concerned at what he had to follow, but he nevertheless worked the sparse diehards like a seasoned pro. Backed by the New York-based horn ensemble High and Mighty Brass Band, Reed yowled like a hybrid of James Brown and Wilson Pickett. Reed was an up-and-coming soul singer with four records in his catalog when Warner Bros dropped him in 2014. His father, a Manhattan think tank exec, told his son about a free after school program in Harlem, Gospel for Teens, and Reed volunteered to teach a class in gospel singing, with a unique twist: instructing young black teens in the art of street corner harmonizing in the doo-wop tradition, but performing gospel instead.
His Yep Roc debut, 2016's My Way Home
, was an all-gospel release, but the instrumentation was hardcore soul. Reed mixed it up on this show, with a raw-throated gospel rendition of a tune recorded by the Blind Boys of Alabama on 2001's Spirit of the Century
as “Run On For a Long Time,”
re-titled by Reed as “Cut Ya Down.”
Reed channeled Pickett's panther yowl on “Your Sins Will Find You Out,” then delivered blistering soul on the title cut from 2010's Come and Get It
Encouraging the remaining faithful to gather closer around him at the lip of the stage, Reed baptized them with sweat and scalding holy soulman screams as the High and Mighty Brass thundered alongside, blasting away like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on an exuberant strut back from a New Orleans graveside service. It was a fitting closure for the first installment of a Yep Roc birthday party, bold, brassy, and belligerent, with a promise of more of the same to come in the future.