Willie Nelson & Family at the Fillmore (Jan. 6th, 7th, 8th, 2020)

photo: Nick Buckmaster

by: Alexander Baechle

SAN FRANCISCO — An eclectic audience turned up at the Fillmore Wednesday to witness country superstar Willie Nelson perform the second of three sold-out nights in the City.

Nelson took to the stage with an assured wave to the crowd and launched into a spirited “Whiskey River.” Nelson was fully engaged and his guitar fingers stayed true. The strings did the talking on second song “Still Is Still Moving To Me.” He raked crunchy, bristly post-structural blues out of his old beat-up acoustic guitar, Trigger, as the band charged along behind him. The guitar phrasing was so jarring it seemed almost disjointed; but Nelson led the band with aplomb, teasing chaos in a neat bit of instrumental navigation.

On hits like “Good-Hearted Woman” and “On The Road Again,” Nelson invited audience participation. For key lines of some choruses, he leaned back and put his right hand up to his ear, as if to say “I can’t hear you.” Sometimes the audience rewarded him by finishing the couplet in a shout-along. At other moments fans fumbled and mumbled – caught up, apparently, in the good-time romp of the rhythm section.

Nelson waved away such trifling miscues. His direct lyrics and conversational singing voice underpinned an arresting performance on “Good-Hearted Woman.” The 86-year-old alertly kept his eyes moving about the room, and the crowd was roused to sing along. Though he appeared tired during brief moments away from the mic, Nelson’s subtle, intricate guitar playing and inviting voice never dimmed.

Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson served as first mate at his dad’s right side. With the full focus of the band behind him, the younger Nelson reached deep for a showcase early on, taking lead vocal and guitar duties on a Stevie-Ray-Vaughan-tinged workout. The smoky, soul-scraping venture into lounge blues centered on a throaty vocal and overdriven guitar leads. Meanwhile the elder Nelson hung back in the groove.

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