Willie Nelson & Family, Amarillo, TX (January 5, 2012)

photo:  Michael Norris

by Chip Chandler

In today’s Get Out! column, I bemoan the lack of really big concerts coming to town in the first half of this year.

But if last night’s Willie Nelson concert is the last great one we get all year even, I can’t complain.

Nelson was in fantastic shape last night, flying down the highways and byways of his career, hitting most of the expected highlights and taking a couple of fascinating detours.

He brought with him a tight band — “the whole damn family,” he cracked at one point: Son Lukas on lead guitar, son Micah on snare drum, sister Bobbi on piano, longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and a guest appearance by longtime percussionist Paul English (who suffered a stroke a couple of years ago) on a couple of songs. Paul’s son Billy moved over from snare to bass, filling in, for now, for the late Bee Spears. Daughter Amy Lee Nelson even came out at the end of the show to sing harmony.

They all kept up phenomenally with Nelson, whose singing darted and slid and slipped around the words of his songs, stripping everything down to the bare essentials. Nelson’s guitar playing was, if anything, stronger than ever (or maybe I could just hear it better this time).

The highlights: A rolling jazz version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” tender and spare versions of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Always on My Mind” and a couple  crowdpleasing newer tunes, “I Ain’t Superman” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

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