Willie Nelson Live at Starlight Theatre

 

Aside from the house lights fading down and cheers erupting into the cool summer night air, country legend Willie Nelson’s on-stage entrance at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre was gloriously unceremonious. Coming after a riveting set from rising alt country artist Jason Isbell and Alison Krauss’ nostalgic bluegrass affair, Nelson’s work was austere from the start. Opening with “Whiskey River”, he firmly stood in place with his weathered guitar Trigger and nasally sang “whiskey river don’t run me dry” before his Family Band had set up on stage. Rather than dwell on the slinky vamp of “Still is Still Moving to Me”, he spit out lines like they were last rites. At 81 years old, Nelson has every right to play up his legend. He could coast on past glories and no one would blame him. But not once in his near two-hour show to a sold-out crowd did he kick up his cowboy boots.

When classics came, Nelson never lingered on them for long. Most artists would anchor sets or close with a song like “Funny How Time Slips Away”, not Willie. He has enough songs for 20 shows and is blessed with the luxury of tossing out greatest hits like they were garbage. He didn’t afford the bluesy ballroom number its proper denouement; choosing instead to leapfrog into the aching “Crazy”. I personally prefer Nelson’s effort to the Patsy Cline affair and last night reminded me why. His punctured whine fully conveys the desperation of “I’m crazy for trying” and live the line is devastating. But even “Crazy” wasn’t allowed to luxuriate at Starlight. Nelson and the Family obliterated it into dust with the walloping “Night Life”. Mickey Raphael’s harmonica wailed and Nelson soloed with the steely-eyed intensity of a contract killer. The admission “it ain’t no good life” would’ve been toothless without their full-committal.

While Nelson and the Family’s allegiance to the material was mesmerizing throughout, the show’s middle was the most spellbinding. “Georgia on My Mind” brought the crowd to a reverent hush with just the wobbling incantations of “Georgia, Georrrgia.” Bobbie Nelson’s work on the keys was punctuated, affording Willie room to sweetly sing his old song. In the right hands the number has the power to stop anyone in their tracks and it was clearly in the right hands with Nelson.

It was “Always on My Mind” though that truly won the night. If the phrase “hindsight is 20/20″ didn’t exist before Nelson cut his version of the Brenda Lee song in 1982, it would’ve been invented shortly after. Few song narrators have ever sounded as wrecked as Nelson in “Always on My Mind”. Everything he should’ve done was blindingly obviously, but he ignored all of it. Watch Nelson in the song’s rudimentary video. Around the 1:40 mark his eyes repeatedly look away after he confesses “I just never took the time.” It’s the look of a man who knows he’ll never get her back. She had every right to leave and fully executed said right. Despite the song being set to a slightly slower tempo live, Nelson kept in that nervous flitting. More than his defiant soloing in new track “Bring It On” or picking in the eerie border town tune “I Never Cared for You”, his nervousness was the most bone chilling. For a master wordsmith, it’s oddly hilarious that what left the biggest mark was a simple action.

“Odd” is what has best described Nelson since the beginning though. Crossing over from Nashville songwriter to singer in the early 1960s was “odd.” Releasing an insular concept album about a murderous preacher and having it go double-platinum is “odd.” Ending the night with the one-two punch of goofy pot ode “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and Hank Williams country gospel standard “I Saw the Light” is “odd.” He’s not “The Red Headed Stranger” as has long been suggested. He’s genuinely strange. And without his peculiarities, country music would be far less interesting.

(Originally posted on AllFreshSounds)

“Heavenly Father”- Bon Iver

http://scottchernis.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/bon-iver-is-not-a-person/

Though last year’s soaring LP Repave by Volcano Choir essentially acted as a new Bon Iver effort, it’s really been three years since the act Justin Vernon came to fame with has issued anything new. In the run-up to Repave‘s release in September, Vernon expounded on the silence surrounding Bon Iver, saying “I really have to be in a specific headspace to even begin to illuminate an idea that would create another Bon Iver record, and I’m just not there.” At the time his words were effectively a death knell, terrifying fans (myself included) that a follow-up to Bon Iver Bon Iver would never come. Today then is a cause for minor celebration amongst Bon Iver torch-carriers. As previously reported on my AllFreshSounds blog, Bon Iver is contributing a new effort to the upcoming Zach Braff film Wish I Was Here and today Line of Best Fit points out the song “Heavenly Father” has officially debuted. In terms of sound, it owes at least a bit of rent to Repave closer “Almanac” which was similarly constructed around an electronic figure. That said, the synthesizer in “Almanac” was far more confident and forward-moving than the electro manipulation we hear in “Heavenly Father”. The piece hiccups and stutters in shifted pitches as Vernon’s familiar ache floats atop. At times invading hi-hats tics make you think “Heavenly Father” could launch into trap territory if given enough time. But the song doesn’t have that kind of certainty. Vernon’s perpetually wondering if he can ever come to accept a higher power, or so it seems. “I was never sure how much of you I could let in,” could be a religious skeptic’s call to the Lord or an explanation offered to a former love why things didn’t work out. (You can listen to “Heavenly Father” now through the All Songs Considered Media Player on NPR and look for the Wish I Was Here soundtrack to drop digitally July 15.)

“Rooney Mara”- L3thargic1

“Harsh” is how Hannibal, MO electronic-artist Lethargic1 tags their second EP Towns on Bandcamp. Seeing the adjective appear next to the word glitch, I innately suspected Crystal Castles levels of brutality to come hurling out of my laptop speakers. I was primed to turn down the volume before the song had even begun.

But that action isn’t at all necessary for Towns’ lead-off track “Rooney Mara”. In fact if you dialed down the volume a smidgen, you may not hear anything at all. Opening on confident but not overly brash drum machine taps, the track quickly segues into spaced-out skips with enough room to lie down in. It’s restful music and sleep is one of the first things I think of when I hear “Rooney Mara”. The way L3thargic1 blurs individual glitches together resembles a dream where you miraculously go from point A to B without remembering a single action along the way. And like any good dream, “Rooney Mara” is over much too quickly and you’re left wishing for it to return.

(Towns is available for download now through L3thargic1′s Bandcamp page now as a “name your price” album.)