Monday, May 04, 2015

Great Moments in Folk-Rock (An Occasional Series)

Went to see the reliably wonderful Willie Nile do a literally unplugged (no amplification whatsoever) set at the Rubin Museum in Manhattan Friday night. It was (unsurprisingly) terrific, with Willie pulling out all sorts of gems from his now ridiculously extensive song catalog; all told, the show was so good that I didn't miss the absence of drums and other loud stuff one whit (and if you know my general lack of tolerance for most acoustic troubadors you will understand what high praise that is).

Here's one of my favorite performances from the show (a studio version of the song can be found on Willie's 2010 album The Innocent Ones).

That said, Willie has a new two-disc live set out (deriving from performances at the Bottom Line in 1980 and 1990) in which he is backed by the aforementioned loud stuff, and at the very least disc one -- with his five-piece original band, featuring Patti Smith Group drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and Television bassist Fred Smith -- is now on my short list of the greatest live rock records ever made.

And here from disc one (the 1980 show) is the completely mind-blowing jangle-riffic assault that is "Vagabond Moon."

Seriously, opening numbers don't get any better than that. Hell, rock-and-roll in general doesn't get any better than that.

I should add that that said 1980 show marked the very first time(!) Willie had performed in front of an audience with a backing band, a fact which still blows my tiny mind after all these years. I should further add that disc two of the new album, with Willie's then band The Worry Dolls, has a much harder rock feel than the earlier show, but it's overall almost as good, and includes a very nice cover of The Who's "Substitue" to boot.

Also -- if you're unfamiliar with Willie, here's a link to the last thing I wrote about him at this here blog -- a sort of career retrospective occasioned by the release of his then (2009) latest album House of a Thousand Guitars, which behooves behearing. The money quote:

Let me get the gushing out of the way up front and stipulate for the record that the man is a bruised romantic with the soul of a poet and the sly heart of a standup comedian, a brilliant songwriter, a riveting performer, and as natural a rock 'n' roller as has ever worn shoe leather.

I stand by that assessment (and everything else in the linked piece) and I will also say, once more and for the record, that Willie's debut album (from whence most of the songs on the first disc of the Bottom Line album derive) is a stone masterpiece that belongs in everybody's collection.

In any case, said debut album (and the rest of Willie's album work) can be found over at Amazon, so what the fuck are you waiting for?


Blue Ash Fan said...

Willie's one of those artists whose continued obscurity just frustrates the $#&*# outta me.

I've seen him do "One Guitar" live with Springsteen guesting. Yeah, it was as mind-blowing as it sounds.

Gotta order the live one. Thanks for the recommendation, Steve.

FD13NYC said...

Good debut from Willie, bought it back then and still think so. Vagabond Moon is a great song and a big fave of mine.

Brooklyn Girl in Queens said...

Great show. He's the real deal.

Nigel Tufnel said...

Not surprising at all that Willie covered a Who song in 1980. It was that very year that he and his band opened for The Who on their first North American tour of the Kenney Jones era. I saw the show that summer at the (not-yet Pete Maravich) Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, LA and it was transplendent. Nobody there knew who Willie was, and when he came out there was just a smattering of applause, but he turned that cavernous arena into an intimate rock club and won over a suspicious crowd.

I knew who Willie was, of course, because I had bought his debut album earlier that year on the recommendation of a guy whose name rhymes with "Sleeve Nimels."

Jai Guru Dave said...

"Vagabond Moon" was one of those songs that, the first time you heard it, you pulled your car over to the side of the road so you could listen, un-distracted. And when it was over, you were desperate to find out "WHO WAS THAT???
It is the sound that some of us have spent a lifetime chasing, and HE GOT IT!
And when he does that wordless yell, just before the instrumental outro?? Transcendental, in a way that could teach the Maharishi a thing or two!
"It's All Over" from the same first album slays me too.

Anonymous said...

That is one fine piece of writing, Mr. Nimels, on Willie Nile.

-- Mark R

Anonymous said...

The 1980 Bottom Line show was a WNEW-FM broadcast which was also aired on some affiliated stations. It has been issued before.

Flying Horses Records, an Italian bootleg label, put it out circa 1981 as "A Rocker On the Road" with a nice deluxe black & white cover. It was missing one song, "She's So Cold". The full 1980 show was officially released May 1997 as "Archive Alive!".

I believe the second show on the 2-CD set is from 2000, not 1990. It features Andy York on guitar, who has previously worked with Mellenhead and Ian Hunter's Rant band, to name a few.

Nile was also recorded by D.I.R. for King Biscuit in 1980 and 1981. Both partial shows are from unnamed NYC venues. The 1980 broadcast LP's are a split bill with Warren Zevon. The 1981 LP's are a split bill with Greg Kihn.

I know because I have all this shit. But I'm not really what you would call a rabid fan. It's hard for me to get too committed to artists who can't do the same for their career. Which is not to say he hasn't done some splendid if sporadic work.

Nile came up around the same time Steve Forbert & Carolyne Mas surfaced. They were the ones to hype in the music press. The new Dylan's and female Springsteens. All that rot didn't help their careers in the least. It put the stink on them. Lotsa people weren't buying that crap anymore.

Nile didn't make it out to the west coast much, which didn't help him build much of a broader following.

The new Dylan comparisons were stupid as usual. Nile was cooler than Dylan. He could just walk away from it.

Vickie Rock

steve simels said...

The second show is from 1990. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

But they're doing stuff from his 1999 album.

I messed up on the Archive Alive! release. It's not from the Bottom Line 1980 WNEW-FM broadcast in April 1980. It's from a WPLJ-FM broadcast from Central Park July 1980. After the WPLJ broadcast aired, Scott Muni banned Willie Nile's music from WNEW for collaboration with the enemy. Really.

The Flying Horses Italian bootleg is, as stated, from the 1980 Bottom Line show, though.

Vickie Rock