Willie Nile At City Winery, Friday, April 30th, 2016, Reviewed
Willie Nile first became prominent on the New York rock scene in 1980 with the release of his first eponymous album. He put out two more records on a major label, and got as far as opening for the Who, but his career fizzled out after that. After years of inactivity he resurrected his career in 1999, putting out a series of more or less self released excellent albums. He is currently touring to support his latest, “World War Willie”. His show came to City Winery on April 30.
Willie and his excellent band opened the show with two rockers from the new album, “Forever Wild’ and my new theme song, “Grandpa Rocks”. Let’s hear it for us old guys! He went on to play a set combining some of his best older songs, a few more new ones, and some apt covers.
A major theme of the night was remembering the recently dear departed. After dedicating concert favorite “Heaven Help the Lonely” to Prince, the band covered “Let’s Go Crazy” with Willie reading the opening speech and many of the lyrics from his ubiquitous notebook. Sloppy but fun. Later he played the country tinged “When Levon Sings” from the new album. (When lightning strikes it’s Levon’s snare). Toward the end of the set there was a rocking medley of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”, also on the new album, and David Bowie’s “Heroes”.
The set ended with a frenzied “You Gotta Be a Buddha”, the anthemic “One Guitar’ and a an encore of “Hear You Breathe” and another apt cover, “A Hard Day’s Night”. I hope to hear Paul play that one in August.
For much of the set the core band of Matt Hogan on lead guitar, Johnny Pisano on bass and the unsmiling Alex Alexander on drums was joined by the great singer-songwriter James Maddock and and the memorably slinky Patricia Vonne and backing vocals. Vonne also contributed some percussion on castanets, not normally a rock’n’ roll instrument, but it worked. There was another woman singer who’s name I unfortunately did not catch.
Nile, Pisano, Hogan and Alexander have been together for years now, and it shows in the easy camaraderie and tightness of the performance. I’ve seen them many times and they always put on a great show. Willie is a terrific front man, warm and humble, with a true appreciation for his audience.
If you are not familiar with Willie’s music, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted. He deserves a much greater level of success.