It seems the good people of Tunbridge Wells are well informed. Nils Lofgren played to a packed hall at the Assembly Theatre. I had seen a version of this show a few years ago and it was good then. Tonight Nils blows the socks off that. The sound, electronics and most of all his playing is superb. Is there anyone out there who can make a guitar sing like Nils Lofgren.
The set list on this tour changes from night to night, selected from about 40 base songs and then chosen on the tour bus before they hit the venue. We don’t even get his cult rocker I Came To Dance such is the extent of his work the crowd don’t really notice he has not played it. Keith Don’t Go, No Mercy, Like Rain, Girl In Motion, Black Books and the Cry Tough gem Mud In Your Eye are some of the standout songs.
What makes these concerts very special is Nils ability to engage the audience in trips down memory lane and tonight he takes us through how he met Neil Young and David Briggs at The Cellar Door club and how that lead to piano playing on the After The Gold Rush album. He tells us how he slept in the studio to get as much time practicing the piano and how he developed the polka style on the song Southern Man.
Nils first made the trip to these shores back in 1973 on the Tonight’s The Night tour with Neil Young probably one of the first shows of its type where the only songs played were from that album, lots of fun for the band but left audiences bemused. Since then Nils has become a full time member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and continues to make great solo records and has just released a life work retrospective called Face The Music.
Gift of the gab is one of Nils other strong points and with fluency and timing he tells stories about vulnerability of age, getting metal hip replacements and visiting Clarence Clemons who is also getting replacements in another hospital at the same time and how he mixes up his Superbowl half-time treats with chopped up chocolate and some types of Häagen-Dazs ice cream (that we don’t get in the UK) adding skimmed milk to keep the calories down.
Voice sounding as good as ever Nils rounds up the evening with Because The Night and blasts the way through his guitar solo as if he were on stage with Bruce. His biggest UK hit Shine Silently ends the show to a standing ovation. All accompanied by Greg Varlotta who tap dances, plays keyboards, trumpet and guitar the two of them sound like a full band…but even better.
Words and Photography by Simon Jay Price. Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall. 18th Jan 2015.