Wille Nelson & Family at Stafford Centre, 11/19/2013
The thought that Tuesday night might be the last time I see Willie Nelson never even popped into my head until after the show was over. I just assumed he'll be back about eight months from now, like he was eight months ago at the Arena Theatre. Willie is eternal.
He sure looks the part, stylishly dressed Tuesday in all black and those familiar braids and running shoes. You can see every bit of his 80 years on his face, which gives him the countenance of an esteemed tribal elder -- the Sitting Bull of country music.
But whenever the lights dim and those first chords of "Whiskey River" wash over you, it's still a good idea to keep the hero-worship in check (as much as possible, anyway) and appreciate the show on its musical merits. And as much as time has exacted its toll on his body, those are still in abundance.
The surprises and delights of Willie's sets these days come later on, after he's had plenty of time to warm up. And, let's face it, he needs it. Luckily Houston's Johnny Bush must have written "Whiskey River" expressly for Nelson to paw at his aged guitar Trigger for several minutes; that lets him get a comfortable feel for the room and the audience before he tosses them one crumb after another, until they've had a 30-course meal in about 80 minutes.
So yeah, you still have to sit through "Beer For My Horses" (sigh) for all of about a minute and a half, but he's kept "Still Is Still Moving" and moved the Hank Williams Sr. section toward the middle. Though he may have been nursing a cold, Willie's voice still resonates, ceding nothing in strength or tone what it may have in range. He paused to take a drink of water exactly once.
Impish as ever, he played "Me & Paul" like a late-night talk-show comedian, milking each lyric like a punchline to great effect. (The best was "I thought Branson was the roughest, but I know I've said the same about them all.") But to me, the magic didn't start to happen until "Help Me Make It Through the Night," when we could hear his guitar playing loosen up and get more fluid, and even see Nelson straining to reach each note of Kris Kristofferson's tender supplication.
When he could easily phone it in, to see a legend like Nelson take so much care with his music is beyond endearing.
Review continues on the next page.