Willie Nile Band ~ 2014 May 9 ~ The Center For the Arts in Natick (TCAN) ~ Natick, MA
Personnel: Willie Nile, lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica; Matt Hogan, lead guitar, backing vocals; Alex Alexander, drums; Johnny Pisano, bass, backing vocals; Hank Brennan, harmonica (one song); Jefferson Grizzard, opening set and backing vocals on two songs during Willie's set.
Scroll down past the video for review.
When you go to see Willie Nile, you can never be sure what you're going to get. That's because the shows range from mostly acoustic, just him and bass player "Johnny Pi," to semi-electric in a folk venue (such as Club Passim or an afternoon show in a library), to full-blown, no-holds-barred, over-the-top rock 'n' roll. Tonight was one of the over-the-top rockers.
As is customary, Willie mixed some rock 'n' roll covers in with a set list primarily drawn from his deep catalog. Covers tonight were a singalong of "Satisfaction" (the first encore) on which local harmonica legend Hank Brennan performed; "People Who Died" (by Jim Carroll, from Willie's latest album American Ride); and a corkin' version of Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," which I was fortunate enough to video (link higher up on this page).
Willie drew deep from his own song catalog for a couple of numbers not often played. The incredible "Grenade" from his second studio album, Golden Down, was a complete surprise and made me go home and consult my LP shelf for the original version. I also particularly enjoyed "Welcome to My Head" and "This is Our Time." A couple of songs highlighted the skills of different band members. "Love Is a Train" became an extended jam giving guitarist Matt Hogan the opportunity to show his chops, and "People Who Died" featured a drum solo by Alex Alexander.
By the time the band rolled around to "One Guitar," TCAN was no longer a seated venue. Everybody was standing and dancing at their seats. There was so much cheering and foot-stomping at the end of the first encore ("Satisfaction") that Willie spontaneously included a second encore, the ballad "Little Light" from House Of A Thousand Guitars. This calmed the audience (and the band!) enough that the show could end.
I wonder if I should mention this. A young woman, apparently uninvited, leaped up on stage, almost literally elbowed Willie off the mike, and sang during "One Guitar." I have been in many venues where a club employee (read: bouncer) would have had her off the stage so quick your head would spin. But the ultra-relaxed, folkie atmosphere at TCAN permitted her to stay on the stage for a few minutes. No harm was done; but I do wonder if she remembered doing this the next morning. (No, there are no pictures.)
The show was opened by Jefferson Grizzard, a singer-songwriter from Nashville, with his band. He performed an excellent 30-minute set of original songs and one Dylan cover. Dressed in a floral shirt, jeans, and sandals, his look was a real contrast to the all-black of the Willie Nile Band. I picked up a copy of his CD (Learning How To Lie) and to my delight it contains the song "When Levon Sings," a duet with Willie Nile.
This is my third visit to this excellent venue. There is a large enough stage, about a foot high, decent stage lighting, good sound, baked goods, beer and wine for sale. The site of many theatrical performances as well as concerts, TCAN is housed in a historic firehouse in the heart of the small city of Natick, a hip center of culture in Boston's Metrowest, just one block from the Boston Marathon course. I believe this was Willie's first show there. The crowd received him with tremendous enthusiasm, and I hope he will play there again.
Here is a page with a handy list of links to all pages on this website with content relating to Willie Nile.
Click for 2014 Concert Page with links to all 2014 concerts ... Click for Main Concert Page with links to all years