Nils Lofgren in Scotland 2010

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26 oct. 2010, 23h54m

Arriving in Edinburgh

When I saw the Scottish landscape from above as the plane was approaching Edinburgh airport, I felt that even just this was worth the trip. There's something irresistibly romantic about it, leading your thoughts to medieval times, knights and jousting... Ivanhoe and Sir Walter Scott. I had the surreal feeling of flying over the board of a game me and my sister bought in the late 80's or early 90's called "Excalibur".

Soon after I had checked in to my hotel, I was ready to locate to the venue, Queen's Hall, where Nils Lofgren and his duo partner Greg Varlotta would play some hours later. From the map I estimated that it would take about 30 minutes to walk to there from the hotel.

I was probably right about that, but I wasn't in a rush and stopped several times to take pictures. Edinburgh is such a picturesque town, and the weather was cold but gorgeous. Right next to Waverley Bridge, there was a street musician playing bagpipes, in traditional clothes. It sounded really good, and him standing there felt logical somehow.

When I picked up my ticket at Queen's Hall's box office I was told that the doors would open at 7, but that Nils would start at 8. On their website the time had been changed from 8 to 7, but no change in the starting time of the actual concert, apparently.

I went to eat dinner at a restaurant fairly close to the venue. After a slight hesitation I decided to play it safe and ordered fish & chips, not Haggis. I hoped to be able to taste Haggis the next day. Saw that the restaurant served breakfast too, and Haggis was part of some of the breakfast deals. I could have breakfast here tomorrow if nothing better came along.

At around 6.45, I was back at Queen's Hall, and 15 minutes later my friend parked his car right in front of me, and right in front of the tour bus. I deliberately avoid mentioning my friend's name since I haven't asked him if he wants to be part of this report. Anyway, I first met him outside of Bruce Springsteen's hotel in Gothenburg in 2008, the time when I managed to meet Bruce for the first (and so far only) time. I stayed there for an hour, talking to three other fans. He was one of them, and we've been in touch ever since. Mostly via email, but I also met him in Stockholm when Bruce played there in 2009.

It was great to see him again, and we stayed in his car talking for a while before we went inside. We weren't searched for cameras or any other suspect items, but we were told not to use the flash and that recording any parts of the show was strictly prohibited. Since I love to film and upload some songs to YouTube, I asked my friend if people are usually filming at his shows despite it being so explicitly disallowed. He told me that Nils really doesn't like when people do that, so I decided I would refrain from it. I'd attempt some photos, though, of course without the flash.

My seat was to the right side of the stage (from the audience's perspective), in the stalls. It's a very old venue, very similar to a church, with wooden benches (they had cushions though, thank God). A charming place.

The show

Then Nils and Greg came on stage, pretty much at 8 sharp. Nils started out playing a harplike instrument (maybe it was a real harp, I honestly don't know that instrument well enough to say exactly what he was playing on), and it took a while before he started to sing. I hadn't noticed the microphone, but he had had his mouth next to it all the time, so when he started to sing, he did it without indicating with his body language that he was about to open his mouth. The words just came out, naturally and with that soft, beautiful and very distinctive voice he possesses. It soothed me, and I knew I would be spellbound for the rest of the night. And he hadn't even gripped his guitar yet!

Describing a concert with words is always very hard, and to do it justice is impossible. I won't comment on all the individual songs, only mention some of them.

Nils' duo partner, Greg Varlotta, showed to have many aces up his sleeve. He started out behind the keyboards, then left Nils alone on stage for some numbers, only to return playing the trumpet. Extremely well, I must say. I played the trumpet for 14 years, so I believe I can spot a great trumpet player when I see/hear one. Greg later switched to guitar (when Nils played piano parts), and last but not least did some serious (but fun, and very catchy!) tap dancing on "Mud In Your Eye" and "I Came To Dance".

There were so many highlights during the show that I in the end have to call the whole concert one big highlight.

I'm not familiar with all of Nils' music, and he also threw in some newly written ones and a couple of songs that aren't his own. But I recognized about 75% of the songs played. The first that gave me goosebumps all over was "Blue Skies". It was something about the way he played with the tempo, using an occasional and very effective rubato, making it different from the versions I've heard before.

Then, of course, "Girl in Motion". Pretty early in the set on this tour, this song always comes with a solo that is out of this world. Out. Of. This. World. If you're only allowed to hear one guitar solo in your life, make sure you choose Nils Lofgren and his "Girl In Motion". The song is very beautiful in itself as well, but the solo... This was one of the songs he played without Greg, so he started by recording a loop on top of which he would later play the solo. He varies the solo every night, that is, it's improvised (of course), but it follows the same basic structure every time. But even if you know in advance where he's going to go, you're nearly holding your breath, wondering how he will do it this time. And it's completely impossible to resist the music. Especially the really high notes during the climax penetrate you like needles and crawl under your skin, but without you feeling any pain or discomfort. It's almost scary how music can be so beautiful, and so physical.

Every time Nils plays a solo is a natural highlight, but having said that, I also adore his singing, and the often simple but compelling melodies of his songs. The chord changes are at times unexpected, but never feel wrong.

A song that Nils introduced as a "dark country song", after which he put on his sunglasses to emphasize the point, made a very deep impression on me: "Black Books". I've heard it many times on CD, and I've always liked it, but this time it felt as if I heard it for the first time. Goosebumps, once again.

Throughout the show, but particularly towards the end of the concert, the audience was really loud and responsive. I don't think Nils can ever go wrong with Bruce Springsteen's "Because the Night" (the one that Patti Smith had a huge hit with), and its placement late in the setlist is natural. It's usually the highlight for me at Bruce's concerts (he doesn't always play it, but when he does). And musically, my number one highlight from a Bruce show when he's with the E Street Band is almost always a solo by Nils. Very often the one on "Because The Night".

Ok, we weren't in a stadium with tens of thousands of excited Bruce fans this time, and I know for a fact that a lot of people who go to see Nils are mainly Bruce fans. I'm one of them. But that doesn't belittle Nils in my eyes. He's got a lot of things that Bruce doesn't. And when Nils plays this song, he owns it.

Nils and Greg played two after that, as an encore: "I Came To Dance", during which Greg once again tap danced, and "Shine Silently" which had the audience on its feet and singing along quite audibly.

It was a very memorable concert, and at least half of the audience must've been waiting around in the bar afterwards for Nils to come out and sign things, like he had promised from stage that he would do.

Talking to Greg and Nils

My friend has followed Nils since 1975, and it's probably easier to count the shows with Nils that he hasn't seen than to list the shows he has seen. We're talking hundreds of shows. Due to this, he's known to Nils and the others involved in the show. Greg joined us where we were sitting, waiting for the long queue of fans to get their things signed.

It was mostly Greg and my friend talking, but I was throwing in some comments and questions now and then, and after a while we're talking about his trumpet playing. For one of the songs he was using an effect that made it sound like two trumpets playing in harmony. I was of course genuinely interested in how that works, and it's an incredible privilege to be able to ask him directly. I also got to ask him how he got to play with Nils, and what it feels like compared with what he did before. I'd have loved to talk more to Greg, and before my friend and I got up to finally talk to Nils, I wished him good luck for tomorrow.

Suddenly my friend is introducing me to Nils, telling him I've come from Sweden for the two Scottish shows. Nils looks at me with curious eyes from behind the table he's sitting at. As we shake hands, we exchange the usual 'nice to meet you' phrases. I can't remember the exact words I was using, but 'great show' was certainly among them. He says 'thank you', and then I ask if it would perhaps be possible to get my picture taken with him. 'Of course' he says and puts on his sunglasses (like he's done for all photographs tonight, and after the two photos I get with him I realize that it's definitely not only a vanity thing -- it takes me at least a couple of minutes before I don't see the effects of the flash any more).

My friend takes two pictures just in case, I thank him and Nils and reach out for the camera to inspect the result. Awesome! I'm stood only a couple of meters from the table, and my friend gets some things that he brought with him signed by Nils. It's only me and my friend left now, apart from the people working with the show. I realize that I now have a chance to ask Nils a couple of things I've always wanted to ask him, so I go for it. 'Nils, just a quick question... how much Swedish do you actually know?' Nils is of Swedish descent, and Nils is a Swedish name. In Sweden his last name would be Löfgren, not Lofgren, though. Anyway, Nils replies to me: 'Tack -- that's the only word I know.' ('Tack' means 'thank you') 'Ok, but do you perhaps know what Swedes call you and other people with the name Nils...?' Instantly he replies 'Nisse!', and with a very good pronunciation, too! I'm so thrilled, because I now know for a fact that he knows we (I mean the Swedish Springsteen fans) call him Nisse, sort of to claim him as 'ours' (emphasizing his Swedish descent, which makes us very proud).

When Nils is done signing for my friend, my friend sticks a paper into my hands. 'This one's for you'. I stare at it for a second without realizing what it is. Then I see that it's a setlist. 'It's the one that the guitar technician actually used', my friend continues, and I can see the notes that he's made to it next to the songs. 'Look in the middle!' And right there, very neatly and with a really beautiful, kind of swirly handwriting, it says "2 Malin, Believe!" and then Nils' autograph. I can't believe it!! I more or less shout 'Thank you!!!' at my friend. Is this for real?? I warn him that I've just got to hug him, and I effectuate the threat immediately afterwards. This is such a great gift. For a second I feel unworthy, because I know that next to my twin sister, I'm just a 'normal' fan of Nils'. She's adored him for ages, and she'd been here if she hadn't been so scared of flying. But the next second I just enjoy the moment. I take a few pictures of the setlist right away, in case I would somehow lose it.



We say goodbye to Nils and Greg, and the staff show us out. Even if I bet they're glad to get rid of us, they're too polite to show any irritation over us lingering there for so long. Or maybe it's the fact that we're finally leaving that makes them extra nice? Anyway, we thank them a lot, and they seem genuinely delighted that we've obviously had such a good time.

My friend gives me a lift to my hotel, and we agree to meet at the venue in Glasgow well in time of the start of the show since there are only unreserved seats for that one. I'm going to do some sight-seeing in Edinburgh the next day, while my friend intends to go to a record fair just north of Glasgow. He's seen Edinburgh lots of times before.

I manage to fall asleep pretty fast, and it's mainly because I came to Scotland really sleep-deprived. When I wake up, I decide to have breakfast at the same place as I had dinner last night, because of the Haggis. I'm too cowardice to order Haggis as a main course, but I'm really curious to try it. When I finally eat it, I discover that I actually really like it. It doesn't taste at all as I thought it would, and I try to imagine all the ingredients to see if it makes me feel disgusted, but I simply can't ignore that it tastes good!

Being a tourist

Already before the breakfast, I feel the beginning of a headache. As it turns out, I can't get rid of it despite several pain killers spread out during the day, and I'm worried I might be getting a real migraine attack. Especially since I don't have an appetite to eat anything during the rest of the day. I try, but I just can't eat any significant amount of solid food. And I usually eat like a horse. Instead I feel a bit weird and drink immense amounts of water. And my forehead is incredibly hot. I'm 'never' sick, but I suspect that I might have a slight fever.

Desite the headache, the lack of appetite, and the feeling of walking around with a high temperature, I love what I see of Edinburgh. It's an unbelievably pretty town! Someone hints that I'd get a really fantastic view from the terrace on top of the National Museum of Scotland, so I go there. And she's right. I take lots of pictures. When I work myself down through the various interesting levels of the museum, one of the members of the staff asks me if I'm there on vacation. I tell her how it is, and to my great surprise, she says 'Nils, does he still play? I used to love him!' I'm a bit skeptical that she actually means Nils Lofgren. Maybe she means someone called Neal/Neil, maybe she heard me wrong.

I continue talking about Nils and throw in the name the E Street Band, which only confuses her. Now I'm pretty sure that we weren't talking about the same artist, because everyone who knows about Nils knows that he plays with Bruce in the E Street Band. Or...? Turns out I'm completely wrong, because suddenly she remembers the big hit that got her started on Nils, "I Came To Dance". My jaw drops! Then I show her the pictures of me and Nils from the day before, and the few I took during the show (without flash). One of them is fantastic, and I tell her that I have some loose plans to develop it and get Nils to sign it later tonight, after the gig in Glasgow. She insists that I should do just that, and tells me the name of the chain that would be able to do it (Jessops), and where I can find one of their stores. Before I go to Glasgow, I actually end up doing it, and I find the place thanks to her directions.

In Glasgow

I sleep on the bus to Glasgow, and when I arrive, I see the venue where Nils will play right away. And my hotel is in turn literally a stone's throw from the venue. Great! I meet my friend half an hour before the doors open, and although we actually missed that a line was already forming and sit and talk in the cafeteria for a while, we actually manage to get seats in the front row when the doors are finally opened. Seems the people that came early didn't really want to sit there for some reason.

Before the show starts, I talk some to a really nice couple next to me. Then, right after 8 o'clock, Nils and Greg enter. And then begins another absolutely fantastic concert. It's amazing to sit so close. The spotlights are (just like in Edinburgh) quite dim. And the venue is different from the previous night's. This is more meant for music, mainly classical music I suppose. The sound is great, and the crowd too! And Nils and Greg... just brilliant!

The setlist is a little different from last night. In one of the new numbers, Nils is by the keyboards and Greg stands center stage and just ROCK on the trumpet! I honestly forget all about Nils, and just completely get lost in the sounds of this wonderful brass instrument that he plays so well. Seriously, I can't even tell for sure if Nils was on the keyboards or if he played guitar on this one...

Ed Manion, the saxophonist from Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, and who also played with Bruce Springsteen on the Seeger Sessions Tour, appears on several songs in Glasgow -- a real treat! Southside Johnny is about to play in Edinburgh the next night, that's why. But I didn't expect this, and I don't think many did. So it's a great and very pleasant surprise.

Another change from last night is that Nils also tap dances. I remember my friend asking Greg why Nils didn't do it on "I Came To Dance" in Edinburgh, but Greg didn't have an answer. It's hilarious to see them duel! Greg is of course superior, but Nils is really not that bad. And he also has the guitar in his hands, playing it inbetween his tap dancing efforts.

After the show

After the show, I bump into some Norwegian fans, and one of them is a person I had tried to get in touch with right before I left Sweden. I had seen on a Springsteen forum that he would go to the same two concerts as I would. It's nice to talk to them for a while, but I soon have to say goodbye and retreat to a corner of the room and just rest some (due to my physical condition). My friend is out in his car to get some more things for Nils to sign. I've brought the pictures that I had developed: the one of Nils that made such a huge impact on the Nils fan who worked at the museum, and the best one of me and Nils.

While we're waiting for Nils to be free, I go to talk to Greg. I have to thank him for the show, and (once again) compliment him on his trumpet playing, and we are soon talking about trumpet players (he tells me about a couple that I haven't heard about but that I will certainly check out), triple tongue, and the so called French triple tongue that is actually performed with a double tongue... well, technical stuff that probably doesn't interest most people, but that is fun to talk about with somebody who plays the instrument.

When Nils is finally free, more than an hour after he started signing, I go up to him, and ask him to sign the two photographs for me, which he gladly does (or at least pretends to do gladly -- how a man patiently can write his name over and over again, night after night, without even appearing slightly bored, that's beyond me!). I call him Nisse this time, something I'd never have done unless I knew he knew about the Swedish way of calling people named Nils that.



Nils can obviously see that the picture from last night is a good one, so I say:

'I know it might sound greedy, but I'm probably not going to see you again for a long time... so can I please have a picture with you also from Glasgow??'

'Sure, no problem at all'

Nils puts on his glasses, and we pose while my friend tries to take a picture. He looks puzzled, because no flash goes off. Nils starts coming with suggestions about what could be wrong, but I dismiss them because I know what's wrong: I was using the 'forced flash off mode' earlier since I figured that if I would take a picture during the concert (which I ended up not doing), I didn't want the flash. I quickly change the settings, and my friend takes another picture of us, which turn out great.

I then turn to my friend and realize that I would love a picture of me, him, and Nils. He agrees that it would be a cool thing and kindly asks Nils if he could pose for another picture. No problem, obviously. But who will take the picture? 'Greg! Can you please take a picture of the three of us?!?' He seems happy to do it. And while he's figuring out how to operate my camera, I'm stood next to my friend who is stood next to Nils. Nils, the sweet soul he is, then asks me if I perhaps would want to stand in the middle. I'm so touched by his considerate question, and of course I would very much prefer that! So I switch places with my friend, and then Greg takes the picture.

After that, I get another picture with Greg (I had one in Edinburgh as well), and he is also so kind to sign another photo I took (and had developed) of him and Nils. We talk some more, and finally say goodbye to him and Nils.

A good feeling

I'm so happy about the concerts, the pictures, the autographs, and grateful for having been able to talk to both Nils and Greg. Both tonight and yesterday. I have this precious feeling inside that I only experience after truly exceptional events like this one. And I do regard Nils as one of the musical wonders in this world. And he's such an unbelievably sweet guy, too. I can't wait to see him again. And I truly hope that he keeps Greg for a long time. He's also a fantastic musician, and a wonderful soul.

Thanks for listening.

/Malin

Commentaires

  • lenaforsgren

    Thanks so much for sharing!! I loved reading it!

    27 oct. 2010, 21h07m
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