Thursday, July 29, 2010

Willie Nelson & Levon Helm at Radio City

Two albums that were big influences on how I looked at and appreciated different music were The Band's "The Last Waltz" and Willie Nelson & Family "Live". Way back in the mid 70's I was the typical 14 year old...a card carrying member of the KISS Army. Then around 1977 at the ripe old age of 15 things changed. Bye-bye theatrics, hello music.

I've seen Willie a bunch of times over the years (more on him in a bit) but I was too young to ever see the Band. The Last Waltz was my entry into something more varied, more mature, more...special. I remember watching it over and over on HBO at one point. I bought the triple album set and played it incessantly. Then I began to branch out. First with Music from Big Pink and The Band, then Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, and Van Morrison. Off I went and I have never looked back. The music of the Band will always hold a special place in my heart.

I have loved Levon's two most recent albums. In fact my son went nuts for Electric Dirt. When the needle drops on his version of Tennessee Jed the whole house seems to smile at once. It was so great to hear that voice, older and more rough as a result of his bout with throat cancer, but no less engaging. You can almost feel the south pouring out of him as he sings. Levon has had a rough time with his throat of late (no cancer thank God) and he doesn't get to sing as much but when he does it is no less wonderful. Rough, scratchy, but pure Levon. The rest of the band is excellent including his daughter Amy (from Ollabelle) and Larry Campbell. Last night we also got Donald Fagen who took lead on King Harvest. Great set, great songs. I am looking forward to a Midnight Ramble in the near future. Oh yeah, Levon and Larry on Tennessee Jed was a hoot.

Willie Nelson is a national treasure in the vein of Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley at this point. At once instantly recognizable and familiar. At the same time he takes those songs and always slightly re-works them in the Willie Way. A short set but hey he is pushing 80! The band is small now just sister Bobbi on piano, Mickey Raphael on harp, Bee Spears on Base and the brothers English switching off on drums (Paul recently had a stroke). It's calmer than back in the 70's but no less engaging. Willie sounds great and can still played that old beat up Martin.

All told, a great night of music. It's a sad commentary on much of today's music that the old guard still can teach the new kids a thing or two. Thanks Willie & Levon, for everything.

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