“THAT was better than Springsteen,” said concert buddy Mike as Willie Nile led his band offstage at WAMC’s The Linda last Saturday. His wife, Deb, agreed. We all stood and cheered.
Nile hadn’t led a full band here since a University at Albany MayFest freebie in the early 1980s and a Tanglewood show that same summer. His solo or duet shows are compelling because he is: a writer of compelling, compassionate moral force and a sparkplug performer who energizes songs and audiences equally. But his new band is better than his 1980s crew and they brought his songs to life as he promised, projecting the power and easy lope of NRBQ. I don’t know a higher measure.
His best originals — “The Innocent Ones,” “Heaven Help the Lonely” and “American Ride” — stood tall next to tremendous covers: “Sweet Jane,” “People Who Died,” “A Hard Day’s Night.”
After the show, my joking reference to us turning into antiques didn’t hit Nile in the funny way I wanted. He turned it around, stressing the benefits of age in experience and perspective. He said people of our vintage — I’m older, and have watched him rock for nearly 30 years — have the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll internalized. We know both its history and how it saves lives. He’s great because he aims right at that, and hits it. Springsteen does, too, and he’s a Willie Nile fan.
Santana and Stewart
I’ve watched Santana and Rod Stewart rock even longer than Willie or Bruce; not always with the same awe and satisfaction.
They play on Friday at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany); elder statesmen wielding hits. But hits aren’t what’s interesting about them.
When Rod Stewart and the Faces hit the stage, very late, at the Montreal Forum in 1972, they carried bottles and had clearly been enjoying the contents. Drinking through a gloriously sloppy show, they played whole songs in several keys at once or different meters. Smiley, loose, it was wonderfully goofy fun. The least “professional” show I’ve ever seen by artists at that level, it was also a great time.
Stewart’s act has become tighter, less party-hearty, as he experimented, in his cautious fashion, with disco and the Great American Songbook, a la Tony Bennett. Robert Christgau recently compared his autobiography, “Rod,” to that of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen under the headline “The Cynic and the Bloke.” Guess who’s who. In his book, Rod-the-Bloke talks gratefully of his “quirk of fortune” voice, telling how he responded to a request to clear the frog from his throat by exclaiming, “Oi, that isn’t a frog. That’s my VOICE!”
It has carried him far: His release “Live: Tonight’s The Night” collects 58 songs recorded onstage from 1976 to 1998 as his music grew less unpredictable, more conventional. However, his “Time” album (2013) showed off revived songwriting ambitions and rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Carlos Santana has arguably moved past many more signposts along a more complex route: Latin-blues band, fusion mystic, restless road-dog changing bands constantly, hit-maker with 1999’s super-successful “Supernatural” (nine Grammys in all).
On “Corazon, (his 22nd studio album, 47th release, counting live sets and compilations) Santana returns to his “Supernatural” hit-making strategy with star collaborators adding voices and instruments. A rumored reunion of the original Santana Blues Band seems on hold for now, as he fronts a ten-piece touring band featuring horns and singers but few longtime members: veterans percussionist Karl Perazzo and bassist Benny Reitveld.
Santana live has had his ups and downs, like Stewart and most other artists of long careers. But his highs and lows aren’t really that far apart, united by the singular guitar tone he calls “the cry.”
Titled “The Voice The Guitar The Songs,” the Rod Stewart and Carlos Santana tour begins on Friday at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany). Show time is 7:30 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $149.50, $79.50, $59.50, $39.50. 800-745-3000 www.timesunioncenter-albany.com.
On Friday, the Howlin’ Brothers folk-rock WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). 8 p.m. $10. 465-5233 ext. 4 www.wamcarts.org.
On Saturday, steady-as-the-surf soft-rocker Jack Johnson plays Saratoga Performing Arts Center (Rts. 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs). The enigmatic, spirited, very-alt rockers Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros open. 7:30 p.m. $64.50, lawn $34.50. 800-745-3000 www.spac.org/tickets/live-nation.
Indie electro-acoustic rockers the Head and the Heart play Upstate Concert Hall (1208 Rt. 146, Clifton Park) on Monday. Elliott Brood opens. 8 p.m. $25 advance, $28 Monday door. 371-0012 www.upstateconcerthall.com.
British rockers World Party — Karl Wallinger’s brilliant, long-on-hiatus band — returns to active duty, playing Club Helsinki (405 Columbia St., Hudson) on Monday. Gabriel Kelly opens. 8 p.m. $20 advance, $22 on Monday. www.helsinkihudson.com.
Veteran Irish troubadour Luka Bloom is sold out tonight at Caffe Lena.
But tickets are still available for Loudon Wainwright III, playing the Caffe on Sunday. Wainwright started playing much bigger places after scoring some pop hits and detouring in and out of acting. A strikingly courageous self-disclosing songwriter, Wainwright most recently mused that he’s “Older than My Old Man Now” on his top-rated 2012 album of that name.
He specializes in cringe-worthy hard truths, making them less frightening by absorbing all the terror into himself and transmuting most, though not all, of it into wry laughs. He’s a piece of work.
Loudon Wainwright III sings on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). $55, advance; $57 at the door. 583-0022 www.caffelena.org.
More short cuts
Talking about Mike and Deb as concert buddies, they are among my “validators,” people deeply devoted to live music and often encountered at shows, especially the good ones. I admire that enormously and look for them in every crowd: Steve, Willie, Joyce, A.C., Fred, Joe, the woman with the silver mullet, others I don’t even know by name, though we’ve nodded to each other in audiences for decades — you know who you are.
I tuned in the “Billboard Music Awards” this week and wished I hadn’t. That mess was so depressingly synthetic and inept they should have called it the “Vapid Manikins Lip-Syncing Awards.” Before I tuned away in disgust, I didn’t see a second of authentic music-making, of somebody doing it for real, like Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nile do.
Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at email@example.com.