Willie Nelson and Family Comerica Theatre Monday, March 12
It was a quarter after eight when the Red-Headed Stranger took the stage at Comerica Theatre last night. He hadn't even played a note, but he crowd of retirees stood in applause beside younger admirers of the man who is not so red-headed these days, and was certainly no stranger to the cheering audience. The younger folk (who helped older patrons down the stairs to their seats) shouted encouragement throughout the night, yelling things like, "Hell Yeah Willie," and, "Give it to 'em Willie!" Willie gave it to everybody, young and old.
Wasted no time grabbing 'Trigger,' his legendary and battered Martin guitar, decked out in his expected black T-shirt, black jeans, bandana, and side-braided ponytails, he gave a quick wave to the crowd and he began singing the familiar lyrics to his classic, "Whiskey River," from his album, Shotgun Willie (1973). Willie was backed by a six-piece band, including his very talented son Lukas on guitar, and his sister, Bobbi on piano. The crowd sang the words somberly and clapped along as Willie took some time to find the rhythm with the somewhat flawed acoustics set up for him last night. As the night progressed, he found the microphone sweet-spot, and his voice sounded much more like the Willie that I have heard so many times from the jukeboxes I've poured dollars into over the years.
Willie got right to it, addressing the crowd with over thirty songs from his ancient and more recent past. He barely paused between songs, swinging effortlessly from "Still is Still Moving to Me" to "Beer for My Horses." The crowd behind me was singing louder than Willie during the choruses, and cheered as the family band jammed solos.
He was ever the showman, too, cycling through bandanas -- which female members of the audience clamored for. He got the first laughs as he flawlessly sang, "Me and Paul," chronicling his long time friendship and road career with band mate Paul English.
The highlight of the show, for me, was the tenth song of the set, when Willie announced to the crowd that his son, Lukas, was going to take the lead and play, "Flooding Down in Texas." Originally performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan, the rendition was unbelievable. Lukas has without a doubt has "the gene," ripping through the guitar solos I have only heard on SRV albums. Besides his gift of guitar, this kid can sing.
Willie wasted no time shifting into "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," and the crowd got back into the sing-a-long mood as they did a call and response with the country icon. He tossed more bandanas to women reaching for them, and continued to please the crowd with every song they could possibly want to hear.
He slowed the crowd down with, "Angel Flyin' Too Close to the Ground," and "Always on My Mind." Once the scene was calm(er), he switched up the tempo with another jam session, and proved to the crowd that he can still own a guitar solo, and reminded me, "Oh yeah, that's why his son is so damn good." His set continued with the crowd-favorite, "Georgia on My Mind," and Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman." The crowd recognized the famous song by the one-time band mate (in The Highwaymen), and sang along with Willie.
Again, without transition, the Nelson Family and Friends continued to gratify the assembly of fans with other hits, each as familiar and as warmly-welcomed as the last. "City of New Orleans," morphed into "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," and the Chicago Cubs Woo Woo Guy (taking time away from Spring Training) could be seen dancing in full uniform with girls in the aisle near the stage as Nelson told the crowd he was going to sing "a new gospel song." Everyone laughed as the lyrics to "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," began, and his daughter, Amy joined on stage to close the show.
Willie closed the show with an actual gospel number, Hank Williams' classic, "I Saw The Light." The crowd was undoubtedly pleased as the band continued to play and Willie took bows at all corners of the stage. He stayed to shake hands with everyone attempting to stick their hand up to the stage, and he threw a few more bandanas to a few more lucky fans. The man had covered 32 songs in a little over an hour and a half.
The show opened up with his son Lukas coming on stage at exactly 7:30, when his band, Promise of the Real, woke the crowd up. I said it previously, but this kid is incredible. I had to pretend not to notice my fiance's drool at his apparent sexiness. With a sound more blues than country, more Muddy Waters than Merle Haggard, Promise of the Real played five songs in thirty minutes.T he highlight was an unreasonably amazing version of Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man." The song lasted for about seven minutes, and my jaw dropped as the Nelson kin played nearly a minute of a solo flawlessly -- with his teeth.
After "Homegrown is Alright With Me," Lukas told the crowd: "Support your local farms! My dad will be out in a minute." I overheard some older gentleman behind me mutter to his wife, "That must be his son." I don't know if everyone was as blown away as I was, but Lukas Nelson gained at least one more fan last night.
Whiskey River Still is Still Moving to Me Beer for My Horses Shoeshine Man Funny How Time Slips Away Crazy Nightlife Instrumental (piano solo) Me and Paul Flooding Down in Texas (Lukas Wilson on vocals) Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground On the Road Again Always on My Mind Instrumental (guitar and piano solos) Superman You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore I Gotta Get Drunk Anything You Ask Me To Georgia On My Mind Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain Good Hearted Woman Jambalaya (On the Bayou) Hey Good Lookin' Move it on Over Healing Hands of Time City of New Orleans To All the Girls I've Loved Before Pick up the Tempo I'll Fly Away Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die I Saw the Light
Lukas Nelson (Promise of the Real) Setlist:
Four-Letter Word The Sound of Your Memory Hoochie Coochie Man Sit Around and Smoke My Pipe Homegrown is All Right With Me
Last Night: Willie Nelson and Family at Comerica Theatre
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The Crowd: Well seasoned for the most part. Some cowboy hats, some potheads, mostly older folk.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Well why did you leave your sweater in the car for? I knew you were going to be cold when I saw you shiver when we walked in. You really should have grabbed your sweater. Why didn't you grab your sweater?" - Older couple
Random Notebook Dump: Willie Nelson looks exactly the same as he always has.