Willie Nelson and Family, in St. Louis (3/11/2010)

Thanks to Willie Nelson fan Jeff, who went to the concert last night, and sent me these pictures.   I like Jeff’s simple review, “What an amazing evening!”

Review in paper, By Daniel Durchholz

Willie Nelson’s set lists don’t vary very much. Though his catalog is as deep as anyone’s on the planet, he’s determined to give his fans the hits they want to hear, and there are a lot of them.

But you seldom get the sense that his performances are by rote. His backing band is as solid as bedrock, but Nelson himself is so loose and unpredictable – playing and singing ahead of and behind the beat but rarely on top of it – that each concert has its own unique qualities.

That was certainly true of his show Thursday night before a packed house at the Pageant. Nelson mostly plays large outdoor venues these days, so there’s something especially electrifying about seeing him indoors.  Even at 76 years of age,  he’s capable of turning just about any room into one of the countless Texas honkytonks he played back in the day.

At the Pageant, Nelson wasted little time speaking to the crowd. Instead, he packed 27 songs into an 80-minute show that traversed a variety of genres — country, of course, but also jazz, blues and gospel — and changed moods instantaneously. He stirred the crowd with the uptempo classics “Whiskey River,” “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” and “On the Road Again” as well as tributes to Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams. But he soothed it with hushed, impassioned readings of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “Always on My Mind.”

An especially jarring set of transitions occurred as Nelson moved from “Nuages,” a lush instrumental, to the plainly goofy “Superman” to the stark, disconsolate “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” Few could manage such a trick, but Nelson is among them.

Throughout the concert, his genius-level guitar playing was what tied everything together. Playing Trigger, his beat-to-death gut-string guitar, Nelson time and again painted himself into a corner musically and then magically escaped, playing solos that were by turns lyrical, jagged-edged, avant garde and frenzied.

In terms of music, personality, legend, aura or what have you, there’s really no one like him.

Shooting with Annie, a relatively new St. Louis band made up of veteran players, opened the show with a pleasing set of straightforward country rock. Boasting three lead vocalists and a versatile instrumental approach, it’s a talented group worth keeping an eye on.

Willie Nelson set list

“Whiskey River”
“Still Is Still Moving to Me”
“Beer for My Horses”
“Shoeshine Man”
“Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life”
“Down Yonder”
“If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time”
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
“Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
“Good Hearted Woman”
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”
“On the Road Again”
“Always on My Mind”
“Nobody’s Fault but Mine (new album)”
“Healing Hands of Time”
“Bloody Mary Morning”
“Rainy Day Blues”
“Me and Paul”
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away”
“I Saw the Light”
“I Gotta Get Drunk”
“You Asked Me To”
“Georgia on a Fast Train”

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