Willie Nelson Shubert Theater, New Haven, CT June 18, 2012
It always amazes me when I see Willie Nelson perform live. Each year, the living legend gets older and I half expect him to sound a bit less like himself or to perform a shorter set. Yet, each year he surpasses my expectations and sounds exactly like the man I have grown up listening to. On Tuesday night, at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, CT, it was no exception. Not only did Willie sound perfect, but he belted out a thirty song set chalk full of hits new and old.
He started the show in all black from his cowboy hat to his t-shirt and pants – and in typical fashion, sang “Whiskey River”. A few notes into the song a giant Texas flag draped the entire backdrop of the stage. He showed his skillful guitar picking on “Still Is Still Moving To Me” and performed a folksy rendition of his #1 duet with Toby Keith, “Beer For My Horses”. Willie did not speak too much between songs, but was full of thanks and smiles.
Most pleasing and surprising was that Willie sang several newer and humorous tracks such as “Superman”, a duet he recorded with rapper Snoop Doggy Dog as well as “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die”, a song he recorded again with Snoop as well as Jamey Johnson and Kris Kristoferson on his newest album, “Heroes”. He had the crowd cracking up to “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore” and cheering to a song he had written with Waylon Jennings called “Write Your Own Song”. That track was written as an insult to the record executives who tried to push around artists in Nashville. Willie does not get pushed around by anyone nowadays and that song really made you think about how Waylon and Willie rebelled against the system back in the day.
Of course, Willie did not leave out some of his biggest and most legendary hits, such as “Always On My Mind”, “On The Road Again” and “Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground”. He even performed a beautiful guitar solo that reminded me of a Spanish Guitar Melody as an intro to his old classic, “I Never Cared For You”. But no matter what Willie Nelson sang into the microphone at the intimate Shubert Theater, it was a real reminder that Willie is still at the top of his game and has no signs of slowing down.
Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real May 25, 2012 Arch Street Tavern, Hartford, CT
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real kicked off Memorial Day Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut with a spark and a flame. The band performed an amazing eighteen song set at the Arch Street Tavern and packed it with original material, legendary covers, and gifted instrumental performances. Lukas, son of living legend, Willie Nelson, displayed his amazing vocals as well as a plethora of electric guitar licks that could rival anyone in the music business.
The last time I saw the band was as an opening act on the Country Throwdown Tour last Summer. Since then, the band recently released a new album entitled, “Wasted”, and Lukas was featured on various songs in his father’s newest album, “Heroes”. Lukas’ appearance has drastically changed as well. He used to have long hair and wear a cowboy hat; however, he showed up with much shorter hair, a go-tee, and dark black eye-glasses (which he did not wear while performing). But, much to his fans delight, his sound has not wavered at all. Lukas’ vocals were spot on and his guitar playing was impressive as ever. From the opening note of “Golden Rule” to closing jam-out, Lukas showed exactly why the Nelson Family is often referred to as one of the most talented musical families in the business.
Each song had its own added “jam-out” strategically placed within the song. Songs such as “Ain’t No Answer”, “Wasted”, “Don’t Take Me Back”, and “Four Letter Word” seemed to stand out to me as each member of the band got to shine on the tracks. Lukas is backed by Anthony LoGerfo on the drums, Tato Melgar on percussion (mostly the bongos), and Corey McCormick on bass guitar. The band is equally as impressive as their band leader as each member is clearly skilled at their craft. In fact, their music is very unique in today’s world. I cannot say what genre of music I would place the POTR in as they cross-over into everything from country to folk to rock with a bit of a Latin touch with Melgar’s infectious bongos. Each song seemed to be extinguished with a jump kick and final intense guitar strum from Lukas.
Lukas delighted the crowd with a slew of his own takes on some legendary covers. He performed a dark and spirited version of Bob Dylan’s “Meet Me In the Morning”, had everyone singing along to David Bowie’s “Major Tom”, and brought the fans back in time with Pink Floyd’s “Money”. However, I really thought the highlight of the set was when he sang two song’s from Willie Nelson’s newest album, “Heroes”. As I stated, Lukas was featured on multiple songs on that album (nine in all) and he performed two of those tracks. “No Place To Fly” is the traditional old style country song that fans are accustomed to Willie singing. However, father and son combined for an incredible version of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” which I think is one of the best covers of any song I have heard in a long time. Lukas did his best solo rendition without his father by his side and nailed it. It has a hauntingly beautiful melody while Lukas’ unique voice, on that night, flowed over the song with brilliance.
The POTR finished off their set as one would assume they would, with a heart-melting jam-out session where each band member had their time to shine. The jam lasted well over ten minutes and the band took a group bow together once they finished. Lukas and the band waiting by the stage after their performance and greeted each of their fans. I took a photo with Lukas and discussed his home town of Paia, Hawaii as I recently visited there – and coincidentally, Lukas was wearing a t-shirt with the town displayed on the front. I will not hesitate to see Lukas and the POTR again and again. Their music style is refreshing in this day in age and I hope more fans will be able to appreciate and witness their unique and talented artistry.
Toby Keith Locked & Loaded Tour Featuring Eric Church and JT Hodges Comcast Theater, Hartford, CT September 16, 2011
Summer was clearly over on this cold mid-September night when the “Locked & Loaded Tour” rolled into Hartford, Connecticut. This night would be the final night of the summer’s country music concerts series at the Comcast Theater (formerly known as the Meadows) and was arguably the best. Despite the unusually cold temperature, the sold out crowd and jam packed lawn section was alive and rocking.
I was fortunate, again, to score a meet and greet pass with Eric Church. Eric has quickly shot up the list of my favorite singers and it has been a real pleasure to meet him twice in the past few weeks. Despite all his energy and moxy on stage, he is a very humble and evel keel guy. We spoke for a moment about the Tour and his upcoming single (which he hinted would be “Springsteen”). I look for great things from Eric in the future.
I was able to take my seat, 5th row center stage, in time to catch JT Hodges. JT had recently signed to Toby Keith’s record label and has served as the opening act along the Locked & Loaded Tour. I did not know what to expect from him since I really only knew his single “Hunt You Down” but he showed a lot of potential. He was at best when he was at the forefront of the stage with a microphone and interacting with the crowd rather than set back behind the microphone stand with his band. Overall, he had a good sound and has some solid lyrics. I look forward to his first cd release. I was also able to meet him after his set and he was easily one of the nicest artists I have met to date.
Eric Church came on stage with his patented avaitor sunglases and Von Dutch denim Trucker Hat. He ripped into “Before She Does” and pumped his fist, pounded his chest, and shouted to the crowd for the next hour. As I stated in my review two weeks ago, Eric has an unique performance style that combines swagger and bravado with a party style bad boy image.
He changed his setlist up a bit and added a new fan favorite “Jack Daniels”, which a video clip is included down below. The song is a humorous take on the morning after a night out drinking whiskey.
Eric was energetic throughout, and really seemed to love when he was singing the new songs of his recent #1 album “Cheif”. He actually stated to the crowd at one point, “thanks to you guys I had the #1 album in the world for two weeks. So Jay-Z and Kanye can kiss my rift!” This comment is evident of who Eric Church is, an artist who does not care about taking on the music industry in the way he wants to.
Eric was at his best on songs such as “Lotta Boot”, “Springsteen”, “Love Your Love the Most”, and “Gettin’ Stoned”, all of which sound nothing alike. That is the beauty of Eric’s music, he never makes a similar song, but they are all country to the core – in his own gritty way. Which is why Hank Williams Jr.’s “Country Boy Can Survive” fit so well into his set. Eric is doing country music his own way and is surviving very well.
He ended his set with the booming “Smoke A Little Smoke” and had the entire amplitheatre on his feet as the sprays of smoke dominated the stage behind Eric and his band. I fully expect this man to be headlining his own tours very soon – it is just a matter of time.
For as much as Eric is on the rise and put forth a great performance, you could tell the majority of the crowd in Hartford that night came to see the headliner. And just after 9:30 p.m., the lights went low and the big screen produced a short comedic sketch which pushed Ford Trucks, the sponsor for Toby’s tour. Upon the end of the sketch, the first of a multitude of pyrotechnic M-80 blasts exploded and Toby walked to the front of the stage. Dressed in his usual cowboy hat and a strange short sleeve aqua blue “Hawaiian” style button down shirt, Toby exploded into “Bullets in the Gun”.
Toby was in playful mood that night as he was full of smiles, jokes, and lyric change-ups to make some of his songs more humorous. On tracks such as “Just Talking About Tonight” and “I Love This Bar”, his lyrics were changed to lyrics of more jokingly suggestive sexual nature which the ladies in the crowd obviously enjoyed.
Toby’s latest top 5 “Made in America” and a rarely sung single from the beginning of his career “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You” were two of the highlights of this show. Both songs were sung with deep passion, one for the Country he loves and one about a woman. The notes Toby is able to hit on both songs are so far ranging that I would be surprised if any other singer in country music could hit them, besides maybe Ronnie Dunn. It was really spectacular.
However, the true highlight of the night for me was when Toby brought out fellow songwriter Scotty Emerick. Toby and Scotty have been long time friends and have penned powerhouse singles together such as “Beer For My Horses” and “I Love This Bar”.
On this night, Toby and Scotty went the way of the humorous “bus songs” they wrote together and had the crowd clapping along and laughing to two acoustic versions of “Weed With Willie” and “The Taliban Song”. Both songs are hilarious takes on topics some might find “un-PC”, but for anyone who can take on a joke can really get a laugh out of. I have always enjoyed Scotty Emerick’s writing and even some of his own recorded music, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him out there in the spotlight with the Big Dog.
Toby had to rush through the last couple songs of his set, probably since it was getting very late and there is an ordinance in Hartford. There is usually a few minute period where the lights go dark and the convential encore happens. Instead, he went right into “American Soldier” after singing “A Little Less Talk”. I enjoy the darkness period where the crowd chants “USA” before this patriotic encore better, but Toby made it work nonetheless.
Toby brought up a number of our Country’s military men and had them at the fore-front shaking hands with fans and standing alongside him in a proud and exhalted manner. As he sang “American Soldier” and the thunderous “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” alongside these soldiers, Toby reminded Connecticut that you should “never apologize for being patriotic”.
The entire “Locked & Loaded Tour” show that night was phenomenal and truly showed that Toby Keith is still at the forefront of country music’s finest artists and performers, that Eric Church is on his way up to the top, and JT Hodges has real potential. Sadly, the Connecticut Country Concert Season was over, but it ended at its highest point of the Summer.
Toby Keith – Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You
Toby Keith with Scotty Emerick – The Taliban Song
Eric Church – Jack Daniels
Toby Keith – Should’ve Been A Cowboy
Toby Keith w/ Scotty Emerick – Weed With Willie
1) Before She Does
2) How Bout You
3) Hell On The Heart 4) Drink In My Hand 5) Guys Like Me 6) Springsteen 7) Getting Stoned 8) Jack Daniels
9) Love Your Love The Most
10) Lotta Boot 11) Creepin 12) Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr. Cover)