This time, Willie Nile wasn’t on crutches, and he had more than twenty new and vintage songs to prove it.
A year ago, Nile played The Linda just days after tearing a calf muscle incurred while playing a Parkinson’s benefit with his good friend, Bruce Springsteen. It was a gutsy, inspired performance – easily one of the best concerts of the year in Albany.
On Saturday, February 19, Nile came back full of vigor and eager to deliver a batch of new songs from his excellent new album “The Innocent Ones” (River House Records), as well as songs dating back to the early days of his storied career.
Armed with an acoustic guitar and accompanied by deft bassist Johnny Pisano (from the Kirsten Thien Band), Nile opened with “Seeds of the Revolution” from his ’90s classic “Hard Times in America,” dedicating it to those in the Middle East fighting for freedom against tyranny. “Pretty Babe” and “Rite of Spring” filled the theater with fine Everly-styled harmonies. The title cut to his new album featured a rousing refrain that could stir the conscience of a cynic, and “Sideways Beautiful,” inspired by Nile’s children, was rife with poetic images about the outcasts in all of us. Nile switched over to the piano for a jaunty “Sunrise in NYC” and then paid tribute to his Buffalo childhood in “Back Home.”
Back on acoustic, Nile had the crowd singing along on 2009’s “House of 1,000 Guitars,” a raucous tribute to all the greats from Jimi Hendrix to John Lee Hooker. Entertaining a request, he flashed back to a 1980 RPI gig with “It’s All Over” and then sent out “When One Stands, All Stand” to local music connoisseur Sir Walford.
Even a wry unreleased song, “God Laughs,” got an airing, followed by the eerie social commentary of “Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead).” “One Guitar,” a rousing new song to change this fractious world’s consciousness (“I think it’s time we spoke/I’ve only got six strings, but like a bell they ring”), would have brought a smile to kindred souls George Harrison and Joe Strummer.
The lone cover of the night, “Rave On” acknowledged the influence of Buddy Holly; “On the Road to Cavalry,” inspired by the late Jeff Buckley, was dedicated to an ailing Richie Havens and featured a sublime bass solo by Pisano. “I’m not disillusioned,” declared Nile in reference to the legacy of the 1960s and the bedlam of 2011, before launching into two encores on piano, “Yesterday’s Dreams” and “Streets of New York” to bring perfect closure to the evening.
Clifton Park native and Vizztone recording artist Christine Santelli, who has called NYC her home for over a decade, opened the show with a brief but hearty four-song set. Santelli’s bluesy voice and acoustic picking got the immediate attention of all during “For a Man” and “Butterfly” (from 2009’s “Any Better Time”), while “My Town” and “Wouldn’t Be Wise” (the latter written during a prolific few months for her MySpace site) showed her gifts for characterization and turns of phrase.
Look for the broadcast of this concert on WAMC-FM in the near future.
Review by Fred Rudofsky