Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Forever Wild: Happily Paying Homage to Heroes, Willie Nile Has Readily Become One -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Willie Nile
w/ opening act Nicholas Tremulis
SPACE, Evanston, IL
March 17, 2017

Chances are, if you're reading this you already know of Willie Nile--whether as a long-time fan of an artist active for decades, someone like me who came to know of him more recently via his friendship with Bruce Springsteen, or because of me, as this is the fifth rave concert review I've written about him since 2011. (I also loved him the first time I saw him in 2009, before I was blogging regularly.)

But if you are a complete Nile neophyte, perhaps the best way I can describe him in shorthand is to note the first songs played Friday night at SPACE in Evanston, IL. (I posted this setlist to

Though good, and hailing from 2016's World Wide Willie album, these are neither his best nor most emblematic songs.

But "Forever Wild" sees the rock 'n roll survivor--who was poised to be a "next big thing" after his stellar 1980 debut album but never quite became one--looking back with wistfulness yet ahead with buoyancy.

And "Grandpa Rocks" amply denotes that even as a doting grandfather of four, the 68-year-old Nile--who Uncut Magazine once called "a one-man Clash"--is far from ready to go gently into any night.

Nile is an excellent songwriter who has had a succession of strong albums in recent years--2006's Streets of New York was my starting point and still my favorite--and almost anything he plays live with his crack 4-piece band comes off well.

Particularly so from just a few feet away, as I was in the comfortable quarters of SPACE, where I have seen Nile the last three times.

After the opening two songs, the Buffalo, NY native played "Life on Bleecker Street," reflecting his current Manhattan residence but also--indirectly--celebrating that roadway's importance on arts & music, including venues in Greenwich Village and the former CBGBs club at the center of the New York punk scene.

With Matt Hogan often dazzling on guitar, other Nile originals came off sumptuously, including "The Innocent Ones," "Heaven Help the Lonely" and "Give Me Tomorrow," on which Chicago's Nicholas Tremulis--who had opened the show with a nice hourlong solo set ending with a beautiful cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy"--joined Nile's band.

(In years past, I've seen the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra serve as Nile's backing band, but along with Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano and a drummer I can't cite beyond a first name of John now seem rather constant as the touring band.)

The Irish-tinged "Beautiful Wreck of the World" was a treat on St. Patrick's Day, and after Willie played the poignant "The Crossing" solo on piano, an extended "Love is a Train" was one of the show's highlights.

Along with the music, it's always fun to hear Willie Nile tell stories about his interactions with more famous friends, admirers and collaborators (without ever feeling like braggadocio or brazen name dropping).

Friday night he mentioned U2 a couple times, and Martin Scorsese.

And he's never shy about paying overt homage to musical heroes--of his, and typically mine, too, though in Nile's case he can call some of them actual friends.

Preceded by saying he was working on an album of Bob Dylan cover songs, first came a rocking version of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," which you may recognize more as "everybody must get stoned."

And a few songs later, with Tremulis back onstage, a version of Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane"--which closes out World War Willie--was a blistering, blissful delight that, stunningly, got even better as it segued into David Bowie's "Heroes."

These tributes to Lou Reed and Bowie nearly made me cry, and I caught much of it on video. (See below.)

After his own anthemic "One Guitar," Nile ended the night with a romp though The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."

Though, as usual, I said hello to Willie after the show and had a photo taken, I don't pretend to know him or the psychology that has accompanied his long career.

Back in 1980, Nile was heralded by Pete Townshend and hand-picked to open for The Who, but not only did his career never truly take off, he had long hiatuses between albums and I only learned of him less than 10 years ago.

But though far from the household name of some of his chums and contemporaries, Nile not only still puts on a scintillating rock show, he seems happy to keep doing so as long as he's able whenever a few hundred enthusiastic fans show up, as they did at SPACE.

So while I sometimes wish that this blog could have a greater audience and influence, so that smaller acts I repeatedly rave about--like Willie Nile--might perhaps play, deservedly, to thousands at a time, during Friday's show he spoke of never having much taste or need for fame.

He just seems to love writing and performing his music, unconcerned with the levels of stardom he never attained.

Hence, while I don't expect yet another sparkling Seth Saith review will generate tons of new Willie Nile fans, I enjoyed seeing him once again, and writing about him anew.

That's enough, and even more than enough.

And between his own music and that of hallowed performers we both love, Willie Nile--though small of stature and unlikely to be recognized by much of the public--doesn't just intertwine with some of the all-time greats, for me he rightfully stands among them.


1 comment:

Ken said...

Hey! This guy really ROCKS!!!!

Thanks for the post and the video link Seth.

You know, I really admire a person who does their art, because it's THEIR art and it's what THEY do. The hell with fame!

There was a time when a stone-ager like me remembers that every single activity done on the face of the planet WASN'T engaged in for profit or adulation. No kidding. People even played baseball just for the fun of it. Honest.