Looking at the long line outside McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Friday evening, a couple wondered who the people were lined up to see. “Lowen and Navarro,” someone told them. They had not heard of Lowen and Navarro, but then again, they were unaware that the unassuming building on Pico Boulevard was a music club.
Lowen and Navarro’s show at McCabe’s was sold out – and for good reason. These local boys (they began their performing career in Venice in 1988) have a loyal following. With a new album on deck, their pre-release show did not disappoint their fans.
Opening was Stonehoney, some of whose members also play backup for L and N. A quintet with three guitars, bass, and a tattooed guy who played rhythm on a “cajon” or box, their sound was country-rock with great harmonies and ironic, but amiable lyrics (on “Love Will Make You Crazy,” they sang “Love will make you wish that you were dead,” but the tone was tongue-in-cheek rather than iron-fisted punk).
Stonehoney’s set was so solid that they received an encore, and they obliged with a sing-along of The Band’s classic “Cripple Creek.”
The announced ten-minute intermission ran to a half hour because set-up included something not usually seen on concert stages. A large armchair was brought out and stagehands helped Eric Lowen into it and attached a mic for him to sing.
In 2004, Eric Lowen was diagnosed with ALS, the disease that causes degeneration of the body’s motor neurons, leading to a loss of muscle movement. The illness created a pause in L and ‘s music career, but not an end. As Lowen put it: “When I was diagnosed … I made a solemn vow to go to March 2006 – and I kept that promise.”
With other musicians, including Stonehoney’s Phil Hurley adding his guitar licks, and Dan Navarro playing acoustic guitar and singing, Lowen sang solos, added his voice to harmonies, and engaged in jocular between-songs commentary. Possibly nobody else could get away with jokes about his condition (the new album is even entitled Learning To Fall).
But how many young bands in good health could do a set as good as this one? They mixed new songs with older favorites, serving up a blend of folk, country, and rock that was rich in harmonies, enlivened with humor, and as intimate as a jam on a back porch.
They opened with “Better Man,” an optimistic relationship song written by Stonehoney’s Shawn Davis and Navarro. This was followed by another new song, “Purpose,” a sweet number on which Lowen sang lead.
For a change, L and N then performed one of their older numbers, “Cold Outside,” but noted that “the meaning of it changes from how it is when we sing it in Minnesota to doing it here in LA where it’s hot.” Title aside, the song sounded quite warm and as fresh as the new songs.
Lowen introduced a song he had written (in his head) during a bout of sleeplessness. “I can write off my insomnia,” he told the amused audience. The song, “Smile” contained the words:
“I wear the smile/of a worried man/ trying to fool the world/as best I can.”
Other highlights – Navarro’s “I Believe in Yesterday,” “Blessing,” “Still Believe,” and a couple of numbers by virtuoso keyboard-accordionist Phil Parlapiano – led to a rousing rendition of the title song from the new album. A non-stop applause session led to an encore (although the band did not leave the stage and come back, out of respect for Lowen) of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” and featured everyone from both acts on stage.Learning To Fall “drops,” as they say in the music industry, in four weeks. It should be a wonderful album. One would hope that it will create more recognition for Lowen and Navarro, so that the next time one of their shows has a long line to get in, no one will have to ask who – or why.