Some years ago now (well more than some) I bought Nils Lofgren’s “I Came To Dance” album in the late 1970s – a time when music still came on round pieces of black vinyl with a hole in the middle, and his work has always interested me since then. I think though that I am a bit of an odd Nils Lofgren fan because it is not his guitar playing (or other instrumental abilities) that have always attracted me to his music, but the songs and the way they are crafted, and in particular the lyrics. Nils Lofgren can do what only a few people can do in words, and that is paint a little picture of a moment in time.
On stage at The Queen’s Hall tonight, Nils had from the beginning a very easy going and comfortable relationship with the audience, and that continued throughout this almost two hour unbroken set as he chatted, joked and reminisced a bit on his 47 years of life on the road and a few of the many people that he has encountered and worked with along the way – including of course Neil Young and his 30 plus year involvement with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band.
One of my favourite parts of the show was right at the beginning when Nils demonstrated that wide ranging musical instrument ability by playing a beautiful intro on the harp...I love the sound of harps, possibly my favourite musical instrument, so that one was always going to be a winner with me.
Some classic songs from this show included “New Holes In Old Shoes”, “Black Books”, “Keith Don’t Go”, “Mud In Your Eye”, “I Came To Dance”, “Shine Silently” and “Girl in Motion”.
A few nice surprises in the set too. A version of the Neil Young classic “Rockin’ In the Free World” and a keyboard version of a beautiful song from the early Grin band days “Like Rain”. Also touching following the horrendous events in Paris was Nils’ dedication of “Why Me” to victims of terrorism.
This was really a two man show, Nils and guest musician on this UK tour Greg Varlotta. A bit of an odd moment in the middle of a concert here as Greg (later accompanied by Nils) gave us a tap dance routine on a few songs with the tap shoe beat providing the almost drum like acompaniment to the guitar and vocals. Did it work?...in a strange way yes, the audience certainly seemed to love it.
Nils and Greg were billed as the only musicians on stage and that did mean that Nils was at times working with some “non live” sounds such as drum machines and some backing parts, and that may or not have been to some people’s personal liking. Judging though from the audience reactions and almost universal standing ovation at the end, Nils had given his audience pretty much exactly what they wanted. This is someone who not only knows what his fans want to hear from him, but clearly appreciates their support over his long career in music. Also nice to see someone just happy to invite fans to the bar after the show to get autographs signed, and T shirts, posters, CDs etc signed. Usually Nils is also happy to have photos with his fans taken, but unfortunately tonight (and with his apologies) having to head on a fairly long trip up to Inverness for the show tomorrow night did not allow time for that.
A lot of reviews of this tour from Nils will probably be concentrating on his guitar work, and there was obviously a lot of that in evidence tonight as Nils played a wide variety of guitars displaying his obvious musical ability at so many styles and techniques with it, but for me it is always the words in a Nils Lofgren song that keep pulling me back to them. Somehow, I think, his more obvious technical skills have over the years overshadowed an amazing ability as a song writer.
I would love to have seen this show with a few little changes. A few local musicians on stage would have been nice to replace some of the “non live” sounds, but I recognise that would maybe have been a logistical nightmare on a touring schedule like this. Also for myself, and again borne out of that love for the actual words of Nils Lofgren, I would love to see this show one day with Nils on his own with just an acoustic guitar – a completely un-plugged event. I say that last note because it is just so easy to watch and listen to the “Nils Lofgren playing guitar image” at times that it can make you forget that underneath all the flash and stage show performance that there are wonderful words in these songs, and it is those words that made that “I Came to Dance” album such a favourite of mine all those years ago. I think part of that album’s appeal to me was that I was also buying a lot of “punk” stuff at the time too, and the contrast between the two (particularly the craftsmanship of the words) was so obvious.
Review by Tom King