WILLIE NELSON – 9/17/11 Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe, NM
The t-shirts and posters at the merch booth lauded Willie Nelson as an American legend and, at age 78, that’s a moniker he’s certainly earned. He’s earned another label of dubious merit over the years: unapologetic pothead.
However, if he was stoned tonight, how could anyone tell? He tore through song after classic song, often at breakneck speed, and never, ever dropped a note or lick or lyric that I caught. All with a posture indicating he could probably do it with both hands tied behind his back. Some say this almost listless urgency is just his style and has been for years, but even on ballads like “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” or “Georgia on My Mind,” which elicited thunderous applause from the largely well-behaved audience before he’d sung half their first verses, Nelson seemed just this side of in a hurry to get finished and on to the next gig.
Not to say the set list wasn’t an impressive string of hits – some his, some not – but with his sparse, honky-tonk lineup, I was hoping for at least a hint of intimacy. What I got was a show just lively enough to imply he wasn’t merely going through the motions.
The first 3 songs were “Whiskey River,” “Still is Still Moving to Me,” and “Beer for My Horses,” from 1973’s Shotgun Willie, 1993’s Across the Borderline, and Toby Keith’s 2002 release, Unleashed, respectively. A nice triptych to open with, covering a wide swath of his catalog, and the crowd cheered for all of them, but if this was going to be a “Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” show, somewhat obscure choices. His musical statement out of the gate seemed to be, “I’ll play what I damn well please, and you’re gonna enjoy it.” And guess what? We did.
Read the entire review on the Toast-n-Jam blog.