Willie Nelson is an interesting cat to see live. First of all, he's the sort of showman the likes of which don't come through as often as one would like. The man just gets up there and plays. There's no pandering to the audience, there's no flashy videos, there's no banter -- there's Willie, there's his band, there's a big honkin' Texas flag as the backdrop, and they play for nearly two hours. That's your show.
Secondly, he draws a weird-as-hell crowd. This being Topeka, and a classic country show, the crowd skewed older. In Lawrence and Kansas City, an "older" crowd means 40-50 years of age. In Topeka, this means something like a median age of 65 for the majority of the crowd.
Granted, it means you have a polite and attentive crowd, which is kind of a necessity for Willie Nelson. The man's got a way of phrasing his songs when playing them live that makes it nearly impossible to sing along. While this means last night's TPAC show didn't degenerate into a sing-along, it also means that when Willie wants you to sing along, like on "Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" or "I'll Fly Away," you're never quite sure as to what meter Willie's currently using.
Willie Nelson occupies someplace where blues, jazz, and country all meet, meaning his shows, while similar (this one had a LOT in common with the one he played at Liberty Hall a couple years back), are never quite the same. Who else are you going to see where the headliner's music is being piped over the PA before the show starts, and then have them stand on stage signing stuff instead of playing an encore?
All things considered, this was a better performance than the one Willie gave at Liberty Hall. While his vocals for that show were spot-on, his energy level wasn't nearly what he had at TPAC last night. There was some full-on jamming going down on stage, and Willie was busting out guitar licks to beat the band. While there might have been some empty spots in the upper reaches of the hall, everyone in attendance was ecstatic and happy the whole length of the show.
Still Is Still Moving
Beer For My Horses
Funny How Time Slips Away
Me and Paul
If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time
Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain
Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Angels Flying to Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
Always On My Mind
Nobody's Fault But Mine
Pistol Packin' Mama
Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
Healing Hands of Time
You Ask Me To
Georgia On My Mind
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey, Good Lookin'
Move It On Over
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
I'll Fly Away
Bloody Mary Morning
City of New Orleans
All the Girls I've Loved Before
I Saw the Light
Openers the Randy Rogers Band seemed to have some fans there to see them, as they came on to hoots and hollers. It helped that the band opened their set with "Tonight's Not the Night," one of their biggest hits. It certainly made anyone who was trying to figure out who they were instantly get a bit of recognition.
The Randy Rogers Band plays fiddle-based country music with some serious nods to late '70s and early '80s acts like Randy Travis or Merle Haggard. They consider themselves to be a little more country than their peer group, saying of this past weekend's Academy of Country Music Awards, "there wasn't much country there, but we were there."
Frontman Rogers' voice is rough and weary, but can still soar to vocal heights that allow for some very nice harmonies. This is a band that's on there way up. While opening for Willie Nelson might be an honor, Randy Rogers and company are bound for bigger and better things in the years to come.