Photos by Lou Montesano
“It’s nice to see so many friends here tonight,” Willie Nile said, looking out at the crowd at Brooklyn Bowl. A Willie Nile concert is indeed a gathering of friends. Except for a too-long hiatus in the ‘80s due to record company disputes, Willie has been a fixture on the New York music scene for 40 years. His 2006 album, Streets of New York, elevated him to the status of street poet in a class with Lou Reed. Following up such acclaim is never easy, but House of a Thousand Guitars, The Innocent Ones and American Ride continued to widen his appeal and win him praise as a songwriter’s songwriter from no less than the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello.
Willie is also a consummate live performer, having come of age during the glory days of New York Punk, and he’s managed to maintain his edge. Supported by Matt Hogan on Telecaster and Johnny Pisano on bass, the energy level at a Willie Nile show is always off the charts. Kicking things off at Brooklyn Bowl with “Forever Wild,” Willie and crew continued to tear it up on “Heaven Help the Lonely,” “Love Is a Train” and “Grandpa Rocks.” Particularly poignant was his dedication of “The Innocent Ones” to the victims of the sarin gas attack in Syria that had just taken place.
Even a gifted songwriter knows it’s no disgrace to cover someone else’s material, so Willie paid homage to fellow New Yorkers Lou Reed and David Bowie with rockin’ takes on “Sweet Jane” and “Heroes.” Willie’s next project is an album of Dylan covers, and he unveiled his versions of “Rainy Day Women” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
For reasons difficult to fathom, Willie Nile continues to fly below rock’s radar. Those who know him love him, and he loves them back. If you’re not familiar with his exceptional songwriting or haven’t experienced him live, you’re missing out on one of rock’s most authentic talents.