Pick your troubadour for Saturday night: There’s no wrong choice. Willie Nile plays at WAMC (339 Central Ave., Albany) while Kris Kristofferson plays at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). Both have long track records here, as bandleaders and solo artists, and both are recommended.
Nile made his local debut at UAlbany’s MayFest with the great punk-folk band he put together after releasing his self-named 1980 first album. It was one of their first gigs together and it was stunning. The Buffalo-born troubadour had followed the Bob Dylan path to Greenwich Village, but he mastered rock from a folk perspective faster and arguably better than Dylan did and was soon straining at record label handcuffs.
At MayFest Nile played “Radiation,” an anti-nukes anthem 10 times more fierce and forceful than (Orleans leader, the U.S. Rep.) John Hall’s gentle “Power.” Nile shouted about ultimate nuclear melt down — “Just because it hasn‘t happened doesn’t meant that it won’t!” — over the band’s thunder.
Nile played at Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Tanglewood, and the Who invited him on a summer-long tour. He had the songs, the band and the performing intensity to play anywhere, but unfortunately, hot success didn’t confer immunity from show-biz corporate meddling. He fought with his record label, but lost: They wouldn’t release “Radiation.” Other fights with other labels followed, sidelining him.
A decade passed between his second album, “Golden Down,” and his third, “Places I Have Never Been,” but Nile was too talented to disappear. He played in Albany after “Places” came out — I can’t remember which club — and he had all the coiled intensity he of a decade before. He was friendly, un-bitter, and happy to be performing. He released other comeback albums, each reaping lavish critical praise and spawning short tours but none bringing the stardom his talent deserves. When he opened for Tori Amos at UAlbany’s downtown Page Hall, no one introduced him and he was several intense tunes into a too-short set when someone, voice full of amazement, called out, “Who ARE you?” Next time I ran into him, at an NRBQ show at the Bottom Line in New York, Willie said he’d been writing steadily and planned a new album.
Now he’s unarguably on a roll, since releasing “Streets of New York” in 2006, his first of four albums in three years. Jay Cocks wrote of the album, “The tunes he writes and plays with such blowtorch vibrancy get the myth and magic and danger and sadness and love in this town — of this town — better than anything I’ve heard since Dion.”
After touring with him last year (Nile has also opened for Bruce Springsteen), Lucinda Williams said, “If there was any justice in this world, I’d be opening for him instead of him for me.”
On Saturday at WAMC, Willie Nile won’t be opening: It’s his show, solo, and he’ll play guitar, piano and harmonica; introducing new songs from the new “House of a Thousand Guitars” album as well and re-igniting past classics. Show time for Willie Nile on Saturday at WAMC is 8 p.m. Tickets are $23. Phone 465-5233 or visit www.wamcarts.org.
A musical generation older than Willie Nile, Kris Kristofferson has achieved enough for a handful of superstars: Featured in Sports Illustrated for stardom in three college sports, Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes Scholar, hit songwriter for country stars, chart-topping recording artist and actor with more screen roles (nearly 80 including the Golden Globe Award-winning lead in “A Star Is Born”) than albums (23, including the recent “This Old Road”).
When he played SPAC in the late 1970s with a rollicking, giant band, featuring drummer “Slammin’ Sammy” Creason and keyboardist Glen Clark of the great Texas duo Delbert (McClinton) & Glen, Kristofferson seemed on top of the world. He had just spent a month at Muhammad Ali’s training complex in the Poconos, and he looked formidably honed, tan and fit — like Superman with a guitar. But he was also humble enough and enough of a troubadour himself to feel that Janis Ian, by herself, had upstaged him and his loud, country-rocking crew. She hadn’t, actually; but his modesty and recognition of her talent did him credit.
Kristofferson rebounded from an unfortunate later episode after a show at the Starlite in Latham when a veterans’ group award (Kristofferson is a vet himself, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot) was found accidentally discarded there. He returned and made a gracious apology, and he apologized again when a cold stole most of his voice at the Knickerbocker Arena (now the Times Union Center) on a Highwaymen tour. His songs earned him a place on that stage, alongside Willie Nelson (who played the Palace last Sunday), the late great Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash (ditto), on whose Nashville lawn Kristofferson once landed a helicopter to pitch him songs.
Kristofferson needed no apology at his stellar 2007 solo show at The Egg. He recalled vintage hits with touching directness, tremendous conviction and musical authority. On Saturday, he returns to The Egg for a solo acoustic celebration of his recent album, “This Old Road.” And he’ll pull powerful tunes from one of the deepest songbooks in contemporary folk and country and rock. Show time for Kris Kristofferson on Saturday is 8 p.m. Tickets are $34.50. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.
The highly touted San Diego roots-rocking quintet Delta Spirit visits Valentine’s (17 New Scotland Ave., Albany) tonight. Spin magazine hailed their debut album “Ode to Sunshine” for its “jangly pianos, rattling drums and scruffy acoustic guitars making a thrilling ruckus” and the Boston Globe proclaimed them “better than any young band in recent memory.”
In addition to their openers Other Lives, and Dawes, Delta Spirit is traveling with representatives of the charity organization Invisible Children, providing information at the show about its programs. Show time is 7 p.m. Admission is $10. Phone 432-6572 or visit www.valentinesalbany.com.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]