Last night 89 people lost their lives because they went to a rock concert in Paris.  Tonight, I’m at a rock concert and my thoughts, along with everyone in the audience, I suspect, are with that Bataclan audience and their families and loved ones.  Nils Lofgren has opened his shows on this tour with Too Many Miles, a song that he wrote in 2003 and that he describes as being about his personal demons, but tonight the lyrics – “There’s been too many fights in the name of love, there’s been too many tears and too much blood” take on a particular resonance. 

Nils Lofgren has been a touring musician for 47 years – he played on Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush at 19 and subsequently was a key member of Young’s studio and touring band during the fraught Tonight’s The Night period.  He has been a member of Crazy Horse and For the last 31 years  has been the lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.  Alongside this, he has released a series of critically acclaimed solo albums.

I first became aware of Lofgren in 1977 when he released the live album Night After Night – a school friend was a fan and insisted that I heard it (Hi Tim if you are reading this) – but it has taken until now for me to get the opportunity to see him live. Tonight’s show has a couple of surprises: Lofgren starts Too Many Miles on the harp – I had no idea that he played that, but he does so quite capably.  Another unexpected “instrument” will feature later in the evening.

Lofgren is accompanied tonight by Greg Varlotta on keyboards, guitar and trumpet. Lofgren also accompanies himself by setting up chord progressions with a looping pedal and then soloing on top.  Whether the audience have become familiar with his work through his solo career or his associations with Young or Springsteen, each song is met with enthusiasm and is greeted like an old friend.  Between songs, Lofgren provides a wealth of anecdotes about his life as a professional musician; he may play to enormodomes as part of The E Street Band but he is clearly at home in front of a much smaller crowd and simply relishes just being on a stage.  He alludes to darker times in the past but those demons have evidently been put to rest.

Drawing on songs from throughout his career, highlights include the aforementioned Too Many Miles – one of only two outings for his Strat; I would have liked a little more electric guitar – perennial Goffin/King cover Goin’ Back, which first made an appearance forty years ago on his debut solo album, and of course his love letter to Mr Richards, Keith Don’t Go.

I Came To Dance trounces the version on his classic live album Night After Night and gives us the second big surprise of the evening.  Greg Varlotta provides a percussion solo in the form of a tap dance and is unexpectedly joined by Nils,the pair trying to outdo each other with their footwork.  Lofgren comments later that “Excuse me while I change out of my tap shoes” was not a phrase that he ever expected to hear himself saying.

Elsewhere on this tour, the encore has included a cover of Springsteen’s Because The Night preceded by an accordion solo – Lofgren learned the instrument at the age of five.  Tonight however we get an off-the-cuff Rockin’ In The Free World – Nils reading the lyrics from a sheet and asking the audience to help him out if he gets lost – a fitting tribute to last night’s atrocities.  Closer Shine Silently sees the return of the Strat for a blistering but joyously uplifting finish.

Nils Lofgren is 64.  He used to climax his shows by doing backflips off a trampoline while playing his guitar.  These days, the gymnastics are confined to his fingers on the fretboard but as another of his songs says: the sun hasn’t set on this boy yet.  Shine on, Nils.

John Scott

Photo “Nils Lofgren Ronnie Scotts 97” by Gerry Gardner

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