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Nils Lofgren

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill - 27th October, 2015

Written By Andy Gunton

He came to dance.

We knew we were in for a slightly different evening when Nils Lofgren opened his set by playing a harp, not your usual Rock Star instrument of choice. This set the stall out for what was to come, a gig with a bit of a twist.

I was lucky enough to see Nils Lofgren perform a couple of times during the late 1970’s, when he often used to do back flips using mini trampolines as part of his ‘act’. Those days are now gone, as he told us, due to two hip replacements. But he’s still an energetic and spirited performer, despite the advancing years, often twirling around while playing extended solos, causing his trademark scarves to wrap around the neck of his electric guitar.

As he reminded us, Nils Lofgren is now 64 years old, and has been ‘on the road’ for 47 of those years. That’s quite a career and one that’s covered a lot of musical ground within it too.

As with the recent Steve Earle gig, also at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, this show was a bit of a retrospective run through of that lengthy career, from Grin to the present day, complete with a very welcome storytelling aspect. This was partly due, I suspect, to the recent release of a 10 CD boxset, ‘Face the Music’, which traces that 47 year musical journey.

Many songs were introduced with memories of when and why they were written. This included a poignant song and story about fellow E Street band member, Clarence Clemons, who sadly died in 2011.

‘Keith Don’t Go’ was preceded by the story of how the song was written during a UK tour with Neil Young, on Nils Lofgren’s first visit to these shores.

We also heard how the famous piano parts to Neil Young’s infamous ‘Southern Man’, which Lofgren played, came to be. This included snippets of a Polka and ‘Roll Out The Barrel’. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to that song in quite the same way again!

Other ‘secrets’ revealed how drinking often ends up with Lofgren in handcuffs and why he is now a Rock Star with an ice cream eating habit.

This was very much a stripped back and informal show, featuring just Lofgren and multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta, but the musical talent of this duo made up for the lack of any backing band.

The whole show was a bit of a master class in guitar playing too, courtesy of Nils Lofgren himself. Any guitar players in the audience must have been lapping it up.

Using a variety of guitars, keyboards, a trumpet and the odd backing track, the duo managed to create a full sound throughout. They also had a rather unusual ‘instrument’ up their sleeves too.

During ‘I Came to Dance’ we were, rather appropriately I suppose, treated to a tap dancing ‘dance off’ between Varlotta and Nils Lofgren. Those new hips are obviously working well.

Another song featured a tap dancing solo from Greg Varlotta, certainly not your usual Rock gig stage antics. Well, I did say it was a slightly different evening!

Other highlights for me included ‘No Mercy’, one of the best songs about boxing ever written, ‘Mud in Your Eye’, and ‘Goin’ Back’, the Goffin/King composition.

A fine evening was rounded off by an encore which included ‘Shine Silently’ and a version of ‘Because The Night’, complete with a story about how Lofgren’s guitar solo during that song had evolved while touring with Bruce Springsteen.

If you didn’t know before, this show highlighted why artists of the calibre of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen have employed the services of Nils Lofgren over the years.

A class act and one very much appreciated by this older audience, hence the richly deserved standing ovation at the end.

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