Monday, October 21, 2019

Personal Favorite: Another Rockin' Night with Willie Nile and Band -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Willie Nile & band
w/ opening act Brad Ray
Evanston SPACE
October 19

There are a lot of rock acts I've seen and reviewed who wouldn't be considered super famous.

Alejandro Escovedo, Stereophonics, Maxïmo Park, Ash and The Waterboys are just a few "personal favorites" who aren't household names.

Of this ilk, I don't think there is anyone I've seen or championed more than Willie Nile, particularly in this decade.

Friday night at Evanston's comfortable SPACE venue, I saw Nile live for the 8th time.

This lags well behind the 50 I've seen his pal, Bruce Springsteen, but isn't bad for a 71-year-old rocker I only learned about around 2008 (via the Springsteen fan site,

I've caught Willie in various incarnations: backed by Chicago's Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, solo
acoustic, paired with bassist Johnny Pisano and with his own touring band, which has varied over the years but includes Pisano.

Friday was a band gig with a quartet including Nile, Pisano, guitarist Jimmy Bones and drummer Jon Weber.

For whatever reason, SPACE had another show booked for the same night.

No offense to the later performer, singer/songwriter Anais Mitchell, who composed the current Tony Award-winning musical, Hadestown. I might’ve liked to have seen her, but her 9:30pm show was sold out. And it meant that Willie was only slotted from 7:00-9:00pm, including an opening act.

Smartly, the opening act, a young singer/guitarist from Georgia named Brad Ray, took the stage at about 6:50pm, allowing for about a 35-minute performance.

Playing acoustic guitar and singing some nice-sounding songs, he was accompanied by his dad, who played some fine licks on electric guitar and provided harmonies.

So Nile and his band didn’t take the stage until 7:40pm, and though they were terrific, the set did seem slightly curtailed, without room for an encore.

That, and—perhaps as a consequence—the show just feeling a tad less frenetic than Nile band gigs in the past accounts for my awarding “just” @@@@1/2 (out of 5).

But it was certainly good enough to be glad I went, as after opening with “Forever Wild,” Nile ripped through one of my favorites of his, “Run,” and was his usual gracious and loquacious self, dedicating “The Innocent Ones” to the Kurdish people and telling how his “This is Our Time” facilitated his meeting the amazing young activist, Malala.

From “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go” from 2018’s Children of Paradise to the rollicking “Heaven Help the Lonely” off 1991’s Places I Have Never Been, Nile demonstrated that he’s been writing great songs for a long time. (His self-titled debut came out in 1980.)

2006’s Streets of New York is the first album of his I came to know and love, and a highlight of Friday’s set was a gorgeous rendition of the title song, with Nile on piano.

The title track of 2009’s House of a Thousand Guitars was also delectable, as was a rocking cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” and a show closing “One Guitar” with the Rays joining Nile’s band onstage. shows that the night before in Michigan, there was an encore of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” so the scheduling kept us from hearing that or some other gem.

Another 20 minutes or so would’ve been quite nice and—per past experience—likely quite phenomenal with the band fully revved.

But, another chance to see the great Willie Nile was appreciably fantastic nonetheless.

It’s somewhat a shame he remains one of my favorite "secrets," but undeniably one I’ve been very glad to know.

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