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The Willie Nile Trio ~ 2015 March 13 ~ Club Passim ~ Cambridge, MA

... by Joanne Corsano ...

Band Personnel: Willie Nile, vocals, guitar, piano; Johnny Pisano, bass, backing vocals; Peter Hoffman, lead guitar, backing and lead vocals

Set List

note: Willie played a Gibson acoustic guitar except where noted

Seeds of a Revolution - Rite of Spring - Life on Bleecker Street - The Innocent Ones - I Like The Way [small travel guitar] - It's All Over - Yas Yas Yas {Dave Van Ronk, Peter Hoffman on lead vocal} - Sing Me a Song - Lost [piano, Willie solo] - I Can't Do Crazy Anymore [piano, Willie solo] - Across the River [piano] - Everybody Needs a Hammer [fragment] - American Ride - House of a Thousand Guitars - Les Champs-Élysées - One Guitar ... encore ... Road to Calvary


"Life on Bleecker Street"

"Yas Yas Yas / Sing Me a Song"


Willie Nile Trio
Willie Nile Trio
click thumbnail to see a photo gallery of the concert

A bigger crowd greeted the Willie Nile trio than the last time he played Passim, when the show had been scheduled with hardly any lead time. Original Willie Nile Band guitarist Peter Hoffman was in the house, and he was smooth as silk, even when he was asked to take the lead vocal on a cover of a song by Dave Van Ronk called "Yas Yas Yas." This song, by someone who Willie says had a great influence on him, led into a knockout performance of a song recorded originally with Peter, "Sing Me a Song." It's about inspiration, said Willie, no matter where you find it.

Willie is a grand story teller and tonight he struck a perfect balance between stories, both humorous and poignant, and music. He was generous with the dedications too, dedicating "Rite of Spring" to Roger McGuinn who was involved with the original recording. Dedicated "It's All Over" to a relative, Tim, who was in attendance, telling the story of how his family have been summering on the New Hampshire coast for over half a century, and that the number of family members involved has swelled to 70. (Tim is his second cousin once removed, if Willie described the relationship correctly.) As someone who has been attending or hosting an ongoing series of family parties for 40 years now, I am very impressed with those 55 years of Noonans. I can also feel the presence of the New England coast in that song ... in a churchyard by the cold sandy shore.

During "The Innocent Ones" Willie broke a string on his Gibson. He doesn't break strings often; he uses soft picks and usually the picks break before the strings. He handed the guitar to Peter with a request that he change the string, and for the next song picked up a beautiful, small travel guitar that he just happened to have along. How lucky. The guitar was not just pretty but had a very sweet tone, just perfect for the next song, the unexpected "I Like The Way," which, in my opinion, is Willie's sexiest song. It was a delight to hear, performed by Willie with Johnny Pisano backing him up on bass.

After the rave-up "Sing Me a Song," Willie assumed a seat at the electric piano and performed two songs solo. They were two numbers from his recently released piano album If I Was a River. The songs were "Lost," with its compelling piano riffs, and "I Can't Do Crazy Anymore." Willie talked about taking classical piano as a child, but then after he learned to play chords on the guitar, also taught himself to play chords on the piano in a way that is suitable for the material of a rock 'n' roll poet. After these two he was joined again by Johnny and Peter for "Across the River."

An audience member shouted out for "Everybody Needs a Hammer," and Willie sang a verse or two but cut it short, saying the band didn't know it, although they were both gamely playing along. The main set ended with a four-song blockbuster of "American Ride," "House of a Thousand Guitars," "Les Champs-Élysées," and "One Guitar," all four being great singalongs. The encore song was the moving "Road to Calvary."

It was a thoroughly entertaining two hours of music. Willie's singing was great, and Johnny and Peter were in great form on bass and lead guitar, respectively, as well as backing vocals. My only disappointments with the evening were with the venue. Passim is between kitchen services, so there was no food, and I used to enjoy the food at this club (although I am told the kitchen will be operating again soon). The other disappointment was that they have replaced the attractive red backdrop behind the stage with a bland black backdrop. Admittedly, the old red backdrop was getting ragged, but it was attractive in pictures, and this new backdrop is visually boring. But it still has the venue name, and that is what is most important for picture taking.

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