The Consummate Storyteller
It is always a treat to see Willie Nile perform. He delivers – at least the times I have seen him – a fabulous show, replete with great songs that are accompanied by wonderful stories. He has been performing since 1976, so there are a lot of stories to tell.
Nile’s style is folk-rock or perhaps more appropriately, roots-rock. Whatever you want to call it, he rocks. I almost never need ear protection at this venue, but I did for Willie Nile. When he plays at Club Passim, he brings Johnny ‘Pi’ Pisano, his bass player, with him and has local guitarist Peter Hoffman accompanies him on lead guitar. I am not sure how long Johnny Pi has been performing with Willie but Peter’s roots with him go way back to their tour with The Who in 1980. The history they all have is evident in the chemistry among them.
They started their two-hour set with one of his classics, “Life on Bleecker Street,”’ from Nile’s well-regarded album American Ride. I am from New York, and while I never lived in Greenwich Village, this song evokes everything I feel about that part of the City.
The set included songs from all phases of his career. There was an old song called “I Like the Way You Say Yes,” which appears on a soon-to-be-released live album from the venerable Greenwich Village club, The Bottom Line. Other songs were his classic “House of 1,000 Guitars,” “The Innocent Ones,” “American Ride,” and his ode to Jeff Buckley, “On the Road to Calvary.”
Nile recently released If I Was A River, an album based around the piano — a departure from his norm. Johnny and Peter left him alone on stage to play a few songs from that album and I enjoyed that part of his set as much as the rest.
Between songs, Nile told stories and apologized for it at times. He moves from one story to another along a seemingly random path, and returning to the original story … eventually. He told of being in the same recording studio as John Lennon on the night that Lennon was assassinated. He talked of his annual extended family reunions on a beach in New Hampshire, and how he will not accept engagements during that time.
Willie Nile has many devoted fans, and it is easy to understand why. He is one of the most genuine people I have met, and that shines through in his music.