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Willie Nelson isn’t much for pomp and circumstance. Before the intermission music had even been turned off at the Mann Center on Friday night, the gray-haired Red Headed Stranger had already strolled unceremoniously on stage and slung his guitar around his shoulder, lurching into “Whiskey River” as the members of his band were still situating themselves. That ragged looseness pervaded the entire show, as the country legend tore through shambling renditions of more than two dozen classics, barely stopping for breath from one to the next.
Nelson has always drawn inspiration from jazz, and that influence was clear in his constant disregard for the familiar melodies of his songs, rushing ahead or stretching out a line, his vocals in constant tension with his raw, eclectic guitar work. Despite his renown as a witty songwriter and a singer with an avuncular twang, his fretwork has always been the rough-hewn heart of Nelson’s sound. Veering off in unexpected directions, brusque and halting one moment, stunningly lyrical the next, these six-string inventions were clearly what keeps these songs fresh after, in some cases, more than five decades.
Several members of Nelson’s Family band have been with him as long as much of that repertoire. On piano was Bobbie Lee Nelson, referred to by the 81-year-old singer only as “Little Sister Bobby,” who supplied a traditional country piano sound in contrast to (and occasionally in conflict with) her older brother’s more renegade approach. Drummer Paul English (the co-subject of the hilarious road stories in Nelson’s “Me and Paul”) has been playing with Nelson since 1955, joined on percussion since a 2010 stroke by his brother Billy. Bassist Kevin Smith and harmonica player Mickey Raphael fill out the line-up, all there to keep a steady anchor for Nelson’s meanderings.
After an audience singalong of “Beer for My Horses,” Nelson’s 2003 duet with Toby Keith, a quick “Well, hello there…” served as both greeting to the audience and kick-off to a woozy, last-call-at-the-saloon version of his classic “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away.” Aside from a few thank yous and introductions, that’s about as much patter as Willie spared during the breakneck evening, never letting the last notes of one song die out before crashing into another. “Crazy” was followed by “Night Life,” “On the Road Again” by “Always on My Mind,” “Georgia on My Mind” by “To All the Girls I’ve Love Before,” occasionally punctuated by tossing his trademark red bandana to the crowd (another always seemed to spontaneously reemerge on his forehead). The set also included “Band of Brothers,” the title song from a new album due out this week, and tributes to fellow outlaws Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, and Billy Joe Shaver.
Earlier in the night, co-headliner Alison Krauss & Union Station was more interested in engaging the audience. Leading her longstanding band, the singer and fiddle player was given to long, droll introductions of her bandmates, including a description of bassist and hunting enthusiast Barry Bales as someone who “likes to get real close to nature and then just stop it.” Continue reading →
Reuben and the Dark return to play at World Cafe Live tonight. The Calgary band consists of Reuben Bullock, Shea Alain, Dillon Whitfield and Kaelen Ohm. Their debut album, Funeral Sky came out last month. The music is slow, with spiritual undertones, and follows the likes of Mumford and Sons. Watch the video for “Black Water” below. Get more information on the show at the XPN Concert Calender.
(Read more: Listen to Willie Nelson’s Free At Noon from May, 2012)
According to Nelson’s site, there will be a ticket pre-sale on Wednesday, February 19th. Tickets go on sale this Friday, February 21st at Noon. Go here for more information.
Soulful rock experimentalists Ava Luna are returning to Philly for a show tonight at Johnny Brenda’s. They call themselves “nervous soul”; shaking feelings mixed with powerful chords and earfuls of synthesizers. The seven piece group released their debut LP, Ice Level earlier this year on Infinite Best Recordings. They were also featured in Weathervane Music‘s Shaking Through series, watch them record “Water Duct” in the episode below. Ava Luna plays tonight along with Auctioneer, this 21+ show starts at 9 PM. You can grab your tickets here.
The Left Banke has been called one of the originators of baroque pop music. They had their first major hit with “Walk Away Renee” in 1966, only a year after they had been playing together. Their vocal harmonies, classical arrangements, and use of various instruments account for their worthy performances. Check them out tonight at World Cafe Live downstairs at 8 p.m. Tickets are $28 plus processing fees.
Tommy Conwell, better known for his days as the frontman of the Philadelphia band, Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers, plays tonight at Haddon Lake Park. This concert is free for all ages and starts at 7:30 p.m. Get directions and more information here.
Finally, country rock legend and singer/songwriter Willie Nelson is playing at the TD Bank Arts Center in Sewell, New Jersey. He will be joined by his son Patrick and other members of the family. They played at our annual Non-Comm earlier this May, you can listen to that performance here. (via the XPN media player). Tickets to tonight’s performance range from $29-59; the show takes off at 7:30 p.m.
The annual Farm Aid music festival just announced its return to Pennsylvania on Sept. 22 at Hershey Park Stadium, with a solid lineup of XPN Favorites in tow. Headlining the will be festival founder Willie Nelson, who recently appeared at our NonCOMM Convention, along with co-founders Neil Young and John Mellencamp. Also in tow are Dave Matthews (performing with guitar wizard Tim Reynolds), Jack Johnson, ALO and more. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m.; listen to Willie Nelson’s NonCOMM set here here.
Tonight, Foster the People, the band that won the world over with their single, “Pumped Up Kicks” from their album Torches, is playing at the Mann Center. They have already had stellar success playing with The Beach Boys at the Grammy’s this past year and just finishing up an appearance at Bonnaroo.
Gina Vespa from diffuser.fm says about their next album:
The band is piecing together ideas for the follow-up to their 2011 studio release of ‘Torches.’ While they’re still in the beginning stages of planning the new record, they have high and exciting hopes for it. As Foster commented to Billboard, “I think it’s going to take a lot of left turns … It’s going to be really celebratory … I think there’s going to be more grit, and I think it’s gonna be extremely percussive.” He also mentioned that the new music will likely be greatly influenced by what he’s been listening to lately, like the Kinks and the Clash.
Below, check out a video for “Warrior” that lead singer, Foster did with A-trak and Kimbra for the new edition of 3 artists 1 song.
And over at Johnny Brenda’s, The Swollen Fox and R5 present These United States, the alt-country rock band who just released their new self-titled album are playing with Juston Stens & The Get Real Gang. Purchase tickets for the 21+ show here OR, enter The Swollen Fox’s ticket give away here.
Willie Nelson’s western town in Luck, TX, is about a 45 minute ride from downtown Austin. On Thursday, March 15th, at SXSW, the town was transformed into the Heartbreak Banquet, a performance space with two stages featuring over 20 musicians including Rhett Miller, Father John Misty, Blitzen Trapper, Daughter, Billy Joe Shaver, Phosphorescent, and Gary Clark, Jr.
Heartbreak Banquet was presented by Electric Lady Studios and Robot Fondue, in association with John Varvatos. For the attendees (including WXPN Station Manager Roger LaMay) it was a welcome break and musical retreat from the frenzied pace of SXSW.