Monday, August 12, 2013

Willie Nelson at the Hollywood Bowl

SOME years, concerts at the Hollywood Bowl become the highlight of the summer. I know I'll miss a lot of things about Los Angeles whenever we end up departing, but these night with the sun setting and the scent of eucalyptus from the canyon will be very near the top of the list.

This year, we've only been twice so far. We saw the fireworks on the 4th of July, a show at which I learned that Josh Groban is not the anti-Christ (and you can quote me on that.)

Our second visit was for Willie Nelson's show on Saturday night, which was devoted mostly to 1978's Stardust album. I know I'm not breaking any news to say that the show was damned good -- Willie has long been one of the most consistent major artists. Even with what at times could be heavy orchestration (conducted by Beck's father, who has a smile and body language eerily like that of his son), the richness of Willie's voice came across quite well. (The tones of his battered classical guitar, which makes Glenn Hansard's Takemine look brand new, came and went during the first song or so, but showed up quite well thereafter.)

Stardust, of course, was Willie's throwback standards record, a real about face after albums like The Red-Headed Stranger. We are now, 35 years after its release, about as far from Stardust's original appearance as it was from the American songbook -- "Blue Skies," "All of Me" -- that inspired it: It's doubly retro. The highlight for me may've been his reading of "Moonlight in Vermont." Some non-album tracks -- "All the Things You Are" -- were also strong. One of my favorite of his songs -- "Funny How Time Slips Away," the brilliance of which I was recently reminded by the L.A. band Spain -- seemed rushed. This is a number about regret and the perspective time offers. It needs room to breathe.

This said, that was about as good a show by an 80 year-old as any of us deserve. What a titan.

Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett opened. Your humble correspondent has been an admirer, in theory, of Lovett for a long time. But I've always wanted to like his recordings -- which represent an attention to detail, a worship of Townes Van Zandt, a literate take on the country-folk tradition, etc. -- more than I do.

The Bowl show really won me over. Part of it was Lovett's banter and stage presence -- here's someone who really loves doing this, and was especially honored to be opening for St. Willie. I loved his fingerpicking as well. But to large extent it was the way Lovett handled his band -- a bunch of great players, and everyone got room to take a brief solo on almost every song. It was like a great jazz band playing country -- Western swing at its best.

What the hell happened to the shuttle bus back to the LA Zoo, though? Something clearly went terribly wrong.

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