Nils Lofgren – Sage Gateshead 22 Feb 2015
Even though I knew next to nothing about his solo career, I was still quite excited when offered the opportunity to see Nils Lofgren in concert and my naïve optimism was instantly rewarded by the bucket load when I saw the ‘house fill’ signs at Sage Gateshead.
It’s quite a large stage at this venue and the minimalist set up looked a bit lost at first, but once the legendary guitarist, resplendent in Top Hat and lose fitting jacket took his place at the harp (the stringed instrument) l couldn’t help conjuring up images of Harpo Marx; which was an image that returned several times during the concert, especially whenever Nils spun like a Dervish in slow motion, while playing an intricate solo, several of which had classical overtones.
As only the very best performers can do, Lofgren and accompanist backing (band) Greg Varlotta managed to commandeer the huge stage with just their performance alone, managing to keep 1650 pairs of eyes and ears trained on them for the best part of two solid hours.
In a way this tour is quite odd, because in these cynical times; while there was a 10 CD box set for sale, Lofgren doesn’t have a new album to promote so this was basically a labour of love and, at 63 you’ve got to admire him for that.
Most of the song titles will mean very little to you or I, as they generally came from the guitarists back-catalogue which dates back 50 years to his days in Grin from which we got two songs; of which Rusty Gun with Varlotta on trumpet was spell binding and belied the fact that only two men were on stage, and had me deciding to reinvestigate that particular band.
Most songs were preceded by an anecdote in his gruff ‘lived in’ voice, proving that regardless of his jokes about getting old his memory is actually as sharp as a tack. The story about his early days recording with Neil Young were fascinating, but I was left disappointed when he spent 3 or 4 minutes talking about his contribution to Southern Man, only to play something entirely different. But that was more than made up with by his stories about E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons prior to performing his tearjerker of a song Miss You ‘C’, which brought the crowd to their feet for the first, but not last time of the night.
Later he regaled us with a very funny story about his time performing back flips on stage with and over Springsteen, which all lead into an extraordinarily good and unexpected version of Because the Night; which demonstrated what a sublime guitar player he always was and still is.
While Varlotta played the side-kick role to perfection, he actually stole the show by performing a clog dance that actually tapped out the beat like a jazz drummer, receiving his own standing ovation from the appreciative audience.
The evening ended with two glorious encore numbers that ended with Lofgren’s signature tune, Shine Silently, which had the crowd on their feet singing along in unison.
Baring in mind the average age of the crowd, a whole lot where very swift on their feet, going down the stairs two at a time so they could get to the front of what proved to be a huge queue to buy t-shirts and CD’s which the star had promised to sign.