House of Blues
November 01, 2004
BY MARTY GARNER
When I was a kid, my dad always told me that Willie Nelson was the world's greatest living American. I thought that it was his accepted nickname, like Bruce Springsteen with "The Boss," or Neil Young with "Shakey." It wasn't until two or three years ago that I realized the only people who called Willie the "World's Greatest Living American" were my dad and I.
Monday night at the House of Blues, Willie Nelson was the "World's Greatest Living American." He forewent his usual set opener, "Whiskey River," for the more somber "Promise Land," allowing the crowd to reflect on the following day's election. That was about as close to politics as the evening got, with the exception of many "Willie Nelson for President" signs.
It's amazing the power Willie has over people. Grown men, myself included, were bawling their eyes out during "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," "Always on My Mind(featuring Jefferson Parish Sherrif Harry Lee)," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." This was my third time this year seeing Willie, and those songs make me cry every single time.
Willie and his Family Band, all legally senior
citizens, showed more drive and presence on stage than most bands touring today. They all played with incredible skill, and they should, as they've done this their entire lives. They ran through Willie's endless stream of hits as if
it were still 1976, back when they were only in their mid-40's and just making it big. "Whiskey River" sounded just as fresh as it did thirty years ago. Drummer Paul "The Devil" English laughed at all the in-jokes in "Me And Paul." Willie traded Spanish licks with guitarist Jody Payne over Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty."
At age 71, Willie Nelson shouldn't have been able to play guitar with the quickness of a man on fire. He fluttered over the fretboard of Trigger, his ancient classical guitar, like Django Reinhardt used to do. His beautiful Spanish/jazz runs on instrumentals such as "Down Yonder" were breathtaking.
Willie has stood for a great many things in his life. He has seen ups and downs that most of us will never come close to experiencing. When he stepped on stage with the Family Band behind him and Trigger in his hands, he made magic. Willie Nelson live was a spellbounding, captivating scene. He delivered drama
("The Great Divide"), comedy("Big Booty"), joy ("I Gotta Get Drunk"), and sadness("Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"). His road manager, Scooter Franks, introduced him as "This Century's Walt Whitman," but when he was on stage, Willie Nelson was the "World's Greatest Living American."