Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams / Nov. 17, 2005 / New York (Beacon Theatre)
While the CMA Awards were the main event in town, Willie Nelson quietly abandoned his "presenter" role and played two sold-out shows at the Beacon Theatre to the faithful. Throwing Ryan Adams and hisWhile the CMA Awards were the main event in town, Willie Nelson quietly abandoned his "presenter" role and played two sold-out shows at the Beacon Theatre to the faithful. Throwing Ryan Adams and his Cardinals on the bill made for a rather stellar pairing of generational icons.
Adams kicked things off with a 45-minute set and was in fine spirits, talking with the audience between most songs despite receiving a very modest response. He breezed through a seven-song set, pulling mostly from "Cold Roses" and "Jacksonville City Nights,” two of his three (!) albums this year. Maybe it was a bit of nostalgia in the air, or wanting to give the older fans something to celebrate, but he closed his set with an upbeat version of "Jacksonville Skyline,” a tune from his Whiskeytown days.
Nelson strolled out on stage with his signature cowboy hat, came around the front of the stage waving to the crowd and then promptly strapped on his acoustic. A solid version of "Whiskey River" kicked off the massive 34-song set.
What followed was a grab bag of old classics, cover songs and a few new tunes, including "Superman,” a reflection on Willie's body being warned down through deliberate substance abuse. Yet it wasn't depressing, and Willie couldn't be if he tried. The grin that was plastered over his face after each song was the defining mood setter.
A few things stood out about the performance. First, it went rather light on material from "Countryman," his recently released foray into reggae, although the classic "The Harder They Come" popped up towards the end. Nelson shifted the mood abruptly, as he followed up with a medley of the gospel standards "Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I'll Fly Away."
Second, a moment of hysterics occurred towards the beginning of the set. A woman in the front row, who had already thrown what appeared to be a bra on stage, decided to complete the ensemble by tossing some underwear. Willie was in the middle of a newer tune called "Me and Paul" and before the solo, he bent down, picked up the garment and hung it on the end of his guitar neck. His ear-to-ear grin was met with thunderous applause as he was picking.
Even though there wasn't an encore, it felt right. Indeed, the 72-year-old legend made such an impression that there was nothing left to say.