Nils Lofgren Keeps Fans Grinning:
Concertgoers Leave Happy in New Jersey!
A SoundPress.net Archive Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

For much of Nils Lofgren's thirty-plus year career in the music industry he has been recognized as a talented performer with a small but hard core group of followers. Over the years Nils has played with the biggest rock icons of our times, released numerous recordings with his band Grin and as a solo act, has performed in front of millions of fans, and has largely remained a cult figure in rock and roll. However, in recent times, the cult of Nils seems to be growing as his latest two-week run of dates up and down the East Coast can attest. Nils and his four piece band visited the JCC in Tenafly, New Jersey on May 4, 2006 for a two-hour concert that won over new converts while satisfying the true believers in attendance.

Nils Lofgren in Concert
Nils Lofgren shines onstage during "Shine Silently" in Tenafly, NJ!

As a seventeen-year-old Nils was tapped by Neil Young to play piano on After the Gold Rush - even though he wasn't really a keyboard player - and this event would mark a willingness to learn and grow musically that continues to this day. Nils also worked with Mr. Young most notably on the Tonight's the Night and Trans recording projects and tours. Lofgren also had the opportunity to serve with one of rock and roll's true founding fathers - Ringo Starr - in the first two editions of his All-Starr Band.

We had the honor of conducting a radio interview with Lofgren back in 2004 to promote his first PDP concert appearance in Paramus, New Jersey. We asked him then about breaking out in the music business and touring and recording with the world' biggest names in music.

Another segment of Nils' current fan base remember him for his energetic videos on the hit medium of MTV back when that network was still just a music revolution in the making. Nils burst into homes all across America with two energetic performance videos for his songs "Across the Tracks" and "Flip Ya Flip" in the early 80's that had heavy airplay if only for a brief period of time before Michael Jackson and the 90's stole the channel.

"It's funny that you mention 'Across the Tracks'," Lofgren said to Kweevak's Rich Lynch during their 2004 Internet radio conversation. "Because that was like, even then, in the early days of video I was kind of getting annoyed that everyone was just hiring dancers. So, I wanted to make a one-man video that I did all the stunts in. That's the video for 'Across the Tracks' - a little break dancing, a little flipping, and all that stuff and gymnastics."

Nils Lofgren in Concert
Nils wailing on a guitar solo!

It was the invitation to join Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band in 1984 that finally propelled Lofgren to international stardom when he stepped in to replace Little Steven on one of the most important rock tours of the last century. Still, it was most arguably Lofgren's expanded musical role in the E Street Band's Reunion and Rising tours circa 1999-2000 and 2002-2003 that commanded the attention of fans who could no longer ignore his immense talent and quality of play.

On most nights during those tours Lofgren took center stage for a wild and fiery guitar intro on "Youngstown" and he could be seen more often seated behind the pedal steel, adding an element of style previously unheard of in the E Street Band. In fact, it was a request by Springsteen that motivated Nils to learn the instrument. Lofgren threw himself wholeheartedly into the task and added another weapon of choice to his arsenal while he was at it. It was also an impassioned cover of his boss's "Because the Night" that helped clue more of Springsteen's fans into his remarkable abilities.

"That was one of my favorite Bruce songs. We did it a lot in the early days," Lofgren said of the Springsteen song more famous for its cover by Patti Smith. "It just started appearing near the end of the last tour. It was funny because one night Bruce just out of the blue gave me the nod for the solo at the end and it kind of caught me off guard. But, that being said, I started working up a thematic thing figuring I'd get the nod again and it never happened. So I decided, well what the heck, at the Christmas shows I told him I'd like to do a version of it and he was fine with that and it came out pretty well."

Speaking of bosses, we asked Nils the difference between working in a group and being the leader of his own band.

"I love to be a band leader. It's what I've been doing for 36 years now on the road. But, being the leader, there's a lot of work off stage. It's a lot of non-musical work. Every issue from sound to lights to placement to squabbles between musicians and crew members - you have to wade into the middle of it," he said to Lynch on the responsibilities of being in charge. "The few bands I've played with, other than my own, I have to admit - it was really great to not be the boss, not be the leader and all of a sudden every issue I had, everything I was doing, was strictly musical and all the other politics of being a band leader went away for a minute. I find that after a run of a couple weeks, a couple months, or a couple years (laughs) - when you come back to your own music you kind of feel refreshed and rejuvenated. You have a little bit different perspective... a little bit inspired because I'm playing with people like Bruce, or Neil Young, or Ringo - and it kind of just recharges my batteries... if it's the right setting it's very inspiring to step away from that role of leader once in a while and get a different perspective."

Nils Lofgren in Concert
Nils moved to the keys a few times during the night!

Nils was the leader in Tenafly as The Nils Lofgren Band began the concert at the JCC promptly at 8 pm. The laudable room is large with parts of the walls covered in wood panels to enhance the acoustics. Tables and chairs were set up for fans to socialize and enjoy light refreshments before the show. Radio legend Dave Herman, who has been a strong supporter of The Stone House Music Club and Nils over the years, gave a warm welcome to the band.

Nils came out with an acoustic, taking a stance with one foot on an amp picking out the colorful chords of "You", enhanced by a secondary guitar handled by the talented Buck Brown who also played keys. Lofgren is truly a pro. He is able to draw out thick textures from his acoustic in multi-faceted arrangements as the rest of the band provides the solid rhythm.

The Nils Lofgren fan had many reasons to be happy on this night. First, Nils has just released a new CD of original music entitled Sacred Weapon - a 12-track collection of gritty rock which becomes the latest entry in a recording catalogue consisting of nearly 40 releases including live albums and compilations by himself and the band Grin. In the past, Nils has been joined by Springsteen and Neil Young on his solo records and for his 2006 studio release there are special appearances by Willie Nelson, David Crosby and Graham Nash.

Song two was from Nils' newest record. "Fat Girls Dance" started off with a heavy drum part aptly handled by the powerful Timm Biery. Lofgren and the band built up on Timm's strength and Nils, now on the electric, was soaring on his leads. The song was well received by the attentive Stone House crowd. Next, was a whah-whah intro into "Cry Tough", which was also energized and featured Nils playing a haunting solo on the electric with a slide. Throughout the evening, Nils utilized diverse, complex techniques to draw out rich tones from his various guitars.

Lofgren may no longer do the legendary flips, made famous during the Born In The USA tours but he is still agile on the stage tapping into the intensity of the audience and the music. Nils was in good spirits playing beautifully and sharing reflections on his songs and career.

Nils Lofgren in Concert
Nils signs his most recent CD, Sacred Weapon, for a fan!

"For the first time in almost 30 years on the road, I'm selling women's panties now," Nils told the crowd in Tenafly who erupted in laughter at the thought. Nils then described how two drunken gentleman in New York took a photo with him while wearing Lofgren's new product line (which were designed by his wife) on their heads. By our estimate Nils was moving a decent amount of the popular lady's undergarments that joined an array of CDs and a selection of Sacred Weapon themed shirts on the merchandise table.

Nils mentioned that he wrote a couple of spirituals for the new record including the folk influenced "Comfort Your Love Brings". The drumming was softer allowing the guitar and lyrics to float to the forefront. With his foot on the amp, Nils played a prayerful melody on his acoustic. The next song was also from the new album and it ebbed and flowed from prose to power featuring a stellar Lofgren solo. Nils noted that they were here in Sopranos country (NJ) and mentioned that during the second season of the popular TV show his song "Black Books" was featured.

"It was a big honor for me, I love the show... its kind of dark," Nils stated as he slipped on a pair of shades. The song progressed with the keys and rhythms before Nils came in playing an edgy slide lead. At the concert Nils had mentioned that he had been practicing slide quite a bit as he did with Rich Lynch during the Kweevak interview.

"I got to say that music, even though it's my profession, is still my hobby. Really, thanks to pretty much the E Street Band, and being in such a big band with four guitar players, the last few tours with the E Streeters, I've started playing a little pedal steel, a little dobro, a little six string banjo, a little lap steel, and near the end of the last tour I've just picked up a little bottle neck guitar," Nils informed Lynch regarding his continued education in music. "These are all instruments I'm a beginner at but it's like an exciting hobby for me because I'm just starting from scratch."

Lofgren displayed his new guitar skills on the hot "Whiskey Holler" and the blues influenced "Pay Your Woman" which remained in the low keys sticking with tradition, complete with heavy blues licks with the bass providing funky deep grooves.

Nils Lofgren in Concert
Nils signed these two LPs for us!

The rare "No Mercy" is based on Nils' observations of professional karate in which competitors are polite before the match and brutal in the ring. The song featured a number of techniques including tapping the guitar for time. Lofgren did a quick rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Buck and then joked he would be around after the show for a meet and greet to "deflect E Street questions."

Before playing "Like Rain", Nils shared that it is one of his favorite Grin tunes, that he still likes to play it and has not tired of it revealing that he wrote the tune at his parent's house as a teenager. It featured many cool guitar effects and was followed by a new song called "Mr. Hardcore" - a tough ode to former Grin and Neil Young producer, David Briggs.

The set list for the night was a mix of old and new songs, all skillfully executed and well received by the audience. The Nils Lofgren Band was on fire and got a number of standing ovations for their impressive jams especially during "Girl In Motion" and "I Came To Dance".

Another reason fans were happy was because Lofgren was available, as he often is, to meet and greet patrons after the show. Nils was present to chat with fans and sign autographs. The friendly Lofgren seemed genuinely pleased to converse with new and old fans and he signed two of our records with the positive statement, "Believe".

The last song of the night was the anthemic "Shine Silently", which has become the now staple show closer on recent tours. While Nils has shone most often in the musical background in support of larger than life rock icons like Springsteen, Neil Young and Ringo Starr - it's nice to see that the spotlight is beginning to shine bigger and brighter on himself as a performer and singer/songwriter/musician in his own right. All of his hard work and effort over the years is now reaping its reward and that's got to be enough to put a smile, we mean, grin on his face!

Related Links: For more information on Nils Lofgren and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- NilsLofgren.com | Buy Sacred Weapon | PDPconcerts.com

(Originally Published on May 07, 2006)

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