Monday, June 6, 2011

Does Tap Dance have a place in Rock? Lofgren in High Wycombe

Somewhat self-indulgently perhaps, Keef Richards has heeded Nils Lofgren’s 1973 plea ‘Keith, Please Don’t Go’, though it’s a reminder of how long that eternal survivor Richards has seemed on the edge of self-destruction, even to his adoring peers.

Lofgren is himself another survivor. Patently, he hasn’t gone in for the same rock’n’roll lifestyle as the older Stone. Forty-three years ‘on the road’ and he still bounces around the stage (though the trampoline is long gone) with youth-like flexibility and athleticism. Lofgren looks like he’s the man who invented most of the rock-God guitar poses, arching his back as he sends notes soaring to the roof, roaming the stage like he’s checking territorial boundaries, or hunching over his axe like a demon goblin with fingers flying at impossible speed over the fret.

Though physically diminutive, Lofgren commands the stage like a giant. On this current UK tour he shares it with ‘the band’; the truly excellent Greg Varlotta who accompanies Nils on piano, guitar, trumpet or tap dance when required. Yes, tap dance. Lofgren was always one for the showmanship. Concerts have featured one-handed playing (‘I learned how to drink beer and play at the same time when on my first tour of the UK with Neil Young’, he confides), the occasional bow to Hendrix’s teeth-playing trick, and of course the famed trampoline, graphically immortalised as the front cover of 'Flip'.

He needs no gimmicks to electrify his audience though. They just give a man already in sharp 3D an extra dimension; tongue-in-cheek crowd pleasers. And God forbid the tap element should be considered ‘gimmick’. It was an integral part of the show; Varlotta’s tap rhythm to Lofgren’s powerfully strummed ‘Cry Tough’ was quite extraordinary. Lofgren is a virtuoso musician - and teacher - whether on electric or acoustic guitar, piano, harp (not often you hear the harp in a rock tune …), or executing a tap dance himself, as he did on ‘I Came to Dance’.

On the evidence of the Bruce Springsteen E Street Band T shirts at this High Wycombe gig, there were several fans of the Boss who’d obviously come to see a solo Lofgren out of curiosity. Playing over two hours of his own, rich, back catalogue material, and featuring ‘hits’ like ‘Going Back’, 'Here Comes the Night’ and ‘Back it Up Like Rain’, will have demonstrated that however important to the E Street band, he’s no simple side-man. The entire audience (and nowhere as big as Lofgren deserves) came out on a high, buzzing and giddy with adrenaline.

Overall, the show gets my ‘best of the year’ so far. Unmissable, if you’re reading this before the tour is through. And it’s nice when a musician of Lofgren’s stature comes out to meet fans and sign merchandise after a show. On the way into the venue Lofgren had been cheerily greeted by local character, the street-dwelling ‘Ed the Oracle’. ‘Are you coming to the show?’ asked Lofgren apparently. ‘No; can’t afford it’, sighed Ed. Lofgren reappeared 10 minutes later, personally, with a free ticket –unasked, unexpected and certainly not expecting this random act of generosity to be reported. That’s even nicer.

Forty-three years on it’s perhaps time someone wrote a homage to Lofgren; ‘Nils, please don’t go’ might be appropriate.

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