Saturday, September 24, 2011

With a Fantastic Show at Fitzgerald's, Willie Nile Continues to Flow Upstream -- Concert Review

Concert Review

Willie Nile
with the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra
September 23, 2011
Fitzgerald's Nightclub, Berwyn, IL

Yesterday, September 23rd, was the 62nd birthday of my favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen. Besides walking on my treadmill to one of his concert DVDs and posting a brief tribute to the Boss on Facebook, the best way I could think of to celebrate was to attend a club show by an artist I only know because of Bruce.

Although Willie Nile is a year older than Springsteen and has been a recording artist of some renown since his self-titled 1980 debut, I've only come to know him over the past decade due to mentions on the great Springsteen fansite, Willie has appeared onstage with Bruce & the E Street Band on a number of occasions, but I really took note when his 2006 album, Streets of New York got praised on Backstreets and elsewhere.

It's really a wonderful album, with 2009's House of a Thousand Guitars just a little lesser, and a show I saw at Martyrs in '09--on which Nile was backed by Chicago's Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra--was fabulous.

So when I noticed that same pairing would be playing at Fitzgerald's on Friday night, I couldn't help but make the trek down to Berwyn.

Boy am I glad I did, because this one was fabulous too.

Within the erstwhile venue with origins in the 1920s and operating as a great music club under present ownership since 1980--and at which tables & chairs made it more comfortable for those of us no longer fanatic about standing for 3 hours--the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra (essentially a soulful rock band led by its affable namesake) opened the night with a highly enjoyable hour of its own material before backing Nile for a 90-minute set that was pretty much perfect.

With a sound that marries Dylan and Springsteen to the Clash and Ramones, Nile opened with one of my favorite songs of the last several years, "Run," and amplified by the stellar musicianship of the NTO, blazed through 14 more songs without a wrong note (setlist here, posted by me).

After ripping through his brilliant rebuke to terrorism, "Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead," Nile introduced "Singin' Bell," the first song off his forthcoming album, The Innocent Ones, by suggesting it bridges Pete Seeger-style messaging with rawness reminiscent of the Ramones and Social Distortion.

Like two other songs played from the new album--which I was able to buy and have Willie sign after the show--"Singin' Bell" sounded great amidst a mix of songs from Nile's recent and more distant musical past. Commenting throughout the night about how much fun he was having playing with the Nick Tremulis Orchestra--another combo show takes place tonight in Valparaiso, IN--Willie asked that someone film "Singin' Bell" and send him the video, so I hope he appreciates the clip below despite some weak production values at the outset.

Although Nile could have swapped nearly all 15 songs in the set--including covers of the Stones' "Satisfaction" and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" as the encores--for others in his repertoire and still delivered a performance every bit as good, virtually the whole show was a highlight. His new single, "One Guitar" has clear Clash influences and sounds great, and his ever-pertinent "Hard Times in America" was taken to the stratosphere by scintillating guitar work by the five axmen on stage. Here's a clip of most of it:

Excepting years highlighted by multiple Springsteen shows, the past 6-month span has been one of the most glorious stretches of my concertgoing life. I've seen great shows by cherished favorites that everybody knows--Bob Seger, U2, Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney, Arcade Fire, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, The Cars, Rush--but just as fulfilling have been the phenomenal performances I've caught by personal favorites like Roger McGuinn, the Ike Reilly Assassination, Alejandro Escovedo, Smoking Popes and now, once again, Willie Nile.

It's a shame that most of these artists are getting a bit long in the tooth, as I'm not aware of many ready replacements of either ilk.

Especially in a week that has seen the retirement of R.E.M. and a year in which Clarence Clemons passed away, it could be easy for me to rue intelligent, hard-hitting rock 'n' roll as an endangered species.

But on the 20th anniversary of the release of Nevermind, there's always hope that the next Nirvana will somehow rise like a phoenix and thrash us out of our collective ennui.

And as long as I can still see rock shows as good as the one Willie Nile and the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra put on last night--especially for just $15--the hard times in America won't seem quite so bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey! What about Lil' Ed and The Blues Imperials?? I certainly hope you're not biased against the blues genre!