Review by Dean Pedley, photos by Lisa Billingham
We don’t get many American artists touring on this side of the Atlantic in January but given he’s been coming here for more than forty years Nils Lofgren has built a special bond with his UK audience that means he can comfortably fill Town Hall even in the darkest of months. Since turning professional at the age of 17 Nils’ career has encompassed solo artist, band leader and stints as a member of Crazy Horse, Ringo’s All Starr Band and the E Street Band. And whilst by his own admission he never had a breakthrough hit he has written more than his fair share of great songs spanning 1975’s eponymous debut through 2011’s reflective Old School.
The two hour show begins with Nils not wielding his trusty Stratocaster but sat at the electric harp for an understated introduction before it is wheeled to one side and he moves through ‘Too Many Miles’ and ‘New Holes In Old Shoes’; a song that sees him facing his own demons head on. Accompanied by Greg Varlotta (keyboards, trumpet, guitar and tap-dancing) the performance is a snapshot of Nils’ musical journey interspersed with anecdotes mostly drawn from the late 60’s and early 70’s and those first recording sessions with Young. Sensational guitar playing is, naturally, much in evidence with his thumb-pick technique offering up show stopping solos notably on the wonderful ‘Girl In Motion’ and his ode to the glimmer twin ‘Keith Don’t Go’. (And any budding fingerpickers looking for some tips should head over to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBq7XRa6uZM for an inspirational guitar lesson).
Taking a seat at the keyboards Nils reminisces on the After The Gold Rush sessions and coming up with the upbeat polka style of ‘Southern Man’ during a break for lunch before he goes into the glorious Celtic lament of ‘Irish Angel’ and his own smooth arrangement of ‘Goin’ Back’. Early 70’s band Grin are revisited via ‘Rusty Gun’ before Varlotta gets chance to demonstrate his tap-dancing skills on ‘No Mercy’ the heartland rocker from the late 70’s that should have given Nils that big hit record.
Rightly proud of his long and diverse career, Nils is already planning a return visit to these shores for later in the year and whilst he often acknowledges departed friends from the stage it’s pretty clear that the song that best describes the man himself is ‘The Sun Hasn’t Set On This Boy Yet’.