Review: Nick Lowe's pure pop 

Decades into a career boasting proto-punk roots and characterized by pop songs often too smart for the general public, Nick Lowe's got a gorgeous new, quiet album, "At My Age," on which he philosophizes about life as a grown-up.

On a second swing through San Francisco in less than a year, the 59-year-old songwriter played evocative tunes from that CD in concert Saturday at the Fillmore featuring fellow Brit Robyn Hitchcock as the opener.

Dressed in a white button-down shirt, dark slacks and playing only acoustic guitar as accompaniment, he said he was thrilled to be in the "venerable" room (doesn't everybody say that?) and that, though the album was "doing nicely," it wasn't "quite nicely enough."

To that end, he played a bunch of fan favorites from his catalog, much of which is currently being re-released on Yep Roc records.

Best known for the 1979 hit "Cruel to Be Kind" _ the tune got as bouncy a treatment as possible given the solo guitar setup -- Lowe mixed the new and old to excellent effect.

He didn't leave out rockabilly material from days with Rockpile ("When I Write the Book," "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll") and touched on his association with Elvis Costello. Lowe, who produced Costello's early albums, played "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?, which he wrote.

Yet the slower, silkier recent songs, many with a bluesy and country tinge, were equally, if not more, elegant: "People Change," "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" and "Hope for Us All" revealed the lyricist at his bittersweet best.

He played a brand new song, "I Read A Lot." For those in the audience thinking "how long will this take?" he said, "about two minutes." Yet what he called "the mid-show down-tempo number" went down particularly well, again reflecting the pain and sadness of everyday life.

Two nifty, biting tunes with man-hating themes -- the 1980s "AllMen All Liars" and new "I Trained Her To Love Me" were beautifully complementary, as were the encore tunes during which Hitchcock joined Lowe onstage. They played early rockers "Hungry for Love" and "Cut Across Shorty" and, like many admirers of good pop music, smoothed things out with a Beatles' tune, "If I Fell."

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Leslie Katz

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