Review: Nils Lofgren – Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool – 13 Jun 2011

Posted on: Sunday, Jun 19, 2011

The Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool: 13.06.11

Following on from Wirral appearances on his last two visits to the area – at the now-gone original Floral Pavilion in New Brighton, and Pacific Road Arts Centre in Birkenhead, the legendary guitarist, writer and singer, Nils Lofgren, brought his ‘duo’ show to the grand surroundings of The Philharmonic Hall, again in the company of the multi-talented Greg Varlotta, who featured on keyboards, guitar, trumpet and some splendidly entertaining tap dancing!

The Chicago-born Lofgren may be overlooked in the ‘guitar hero’ stakes, but in the modern era he can have few equals, and here was on breathtaking form . . . both on acoustic and electric . . . and also turning his hand to piano, harp and a touch of tap dancing himself. It was easy to see how he has been in such demand over the years and worked with greats such as Neil Young, Lou Reed, and his current employer, Bruce Springsteen.

However this show was about his superb back-catalogue and he touched on all eras of it, from his first band Grin, up to recent albums, with a major part of the evening seeing songs from his most successful period on A&M . . .  with the help of an effect here and there, he and Varlotta managed to fill the hall with their playing, that often sounded like a full band, never mind just the two of them.

Without mentioning it all the way through, his playing was just stunning all evening, from some delicate harmonics on acoustic, to some absolutely roaring solos on his trusty Fender Stratocaster . . . I would imagine every guitar player in the audience was absolutely  mesmerised at his jaw-dropping playing. However he chose to start the show with some delicate harp, which led into “Too Many Miles”, before a first dip into the “Cry Tough” album for the favourite “Share A Little”, and then from the “Wonderland” release, the lovely “Deadline”.

Lofgren then pulled out a gem for the Liverpool crowd with a Beatles song, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, with a finger-picked acoustic version that he had learnt from “Chet Atkins Picks On The Beatles” . . . a surefire winner on the night, and more evidence of his wonderful playing. It was back to his first solo release under his own name in 1975 for his ode to Keith Richard, the still thrilling “Keith Don’t Go”. The gems kept coming with “Across The Tracks” . . . a beautiful song with gorgeous lyrics.

Greg Varlotta showed his musical virtuosity when he stepped forward to play some trumpet on the old Grin song, “Rusty Gun” . . . his playing giving a Mexican mariachi sound to the number. The fairly recent “Black Books” has become  very well known since it was included in “The Sopranos” series . . . with a great quip that “it’s ok, I know Silvio” . . . his E-Street bandmate Steve Van Zandt. – we saw one of the highlights of the evening with this, Lofgren’s guitar and vocal embellished by Varlotta’s fine keyboard work.

No Nils Lofgren show would be complete without a piano interlude from him, and we were treated to a three-song segment that included the Goffin / King classic “Going Back” and his own “The Sun Hasn’t Set On This Boy Yet” . . . both showing that it’s just not guitar playing instrument-wise that he excels in. Greg Varlotta gave a tap dancing masterclass on the timeless “Mud In Your Eye”, again from the “Cry Tough” album.

The two hour plus show ended with a thrilling run-in, first with the epic “No Mercy” and then a brilliant “Because The Night”, which saw some absolutely blistering electric guitar throughout, on the Bruce Springsteen / Patti Smith number. The duo returned for a brace of encores – both taking to the wood floor for some tap on “I Came To Dance”, with this amazing night ending with another of Lofgren’s ‘anthems’, the stirring “Shine Silently”.

I once saw a quote I always will remember about Nils Lofgren in a review for one of his more recent solo albums . . . it said simply that “guest guitar players were not required” . . . anyone present at The Philharmonic will endorse that . . . simply epic!




June 19th, 2011 at 12:48
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Sadly ironic this gig was just after Clarence Clemons took ill and Nils wished him well from the stage, sadly the ‘Big Man’ has passed away yesterday (Saturday) . . . a major factor on all Bruce Springsteen’s early epic tunes, in particularly Clarence’s sax dominates the “Born to Run” album. Not blues, but hey . . . RIP Clarence. He also played with James Brown in his pre-Bruce days.