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In the flesh

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Nick Lowe and Ron Sexsmith
The Ark, Ann Arbor, Sept. 25

Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello hailed Ron Sexsmith as one of today's best pop tunesmiths, so it makes perfect sense he'd go on the road with the "Jesus of Cool," Nick Lowe. Warmly embraced by an intimate crowd, Sexsmith didn't waste time kicking off an exquisite set that demonstrated his eloquent writing, distinctive voice and multi-layered guitar. "Just My Heart Talkin'," "Cheap Hotel," "Thinking Out Loud" and "Disappearing Act" were plaintive and pristine. It's clear that Sexsmith's gentle melodies about lost innocence and hard times connected with his appreciative fans.

Nick Lowe's pure pop for now people also struck all the right chords. "So many hits, so little time," he joked, a man alone onstage with a guitar. The wry cynicism of new songs "I Trained Her to Love Me" and "People Change" from the new disc, At My Age, sounded at home with the wonderful crowd-pleaser "Cruel to Be Kind," circa '79. Whether crooning like Presley or strumming like the Everlys, Lowe delivered a sometimes melancholy, often humorous, and always engaging acoustic set.

And the hits came as promised: "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll)," "All Men Are Liars" and "Heart" rocked the house, while an eerily down-tempo "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" tipped its hat to the Velvets' "Sweet Jane." Sexsmith even joined Lowe for one of his three encores, an inspired cover of the Louvin Brothers, "My Baby's Gone."

At one point between songs, Lowe summed it up beautifully: "Well done, and congratulations for electing to come to our show." Congratulations, indeed. This crowd couldn't have made a better choice.

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