Nils Lofgren stopped off at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh tonight to a pretty full house as part of his “50 Years...Up the Road” tour, celebrating exactly what the title says - 50 years of travels as a touring musician. This show, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta, is at its core the same format as when I last saw Nils Lofgren play here three years ago, but of course, when you have that wealth of experience and musical material behind you, there is always going to be something different to bring to any performance.
Nils Lofgren has always for me been a songwriter first, and to some people who concentrate on his obvious guitar skills first, that may seem an odd statement to make, but one for me that always holds true. I first came across the words and music of Nils sometime in the late 1970s when I bought the 1977 “I Came To Dance” album (music came on big round bits of black vinyl then, not little CDs). The album belonged to a time when I was listening to other artists who wrote wonderful words too – Lou Reed (whom Nils has also worked with) and Bruce Springsteen’s first few albums. Nils Lofgren was sort of my discovery route via someone else’s record collection into the music of Bruce Springsteen, and when I saw Springsteen in 1980, Nils had still to join his band. I mention this background because for me Nils Lofgren and his music have always been separate from his work as part of “The E Street Band”. Some people for some reason let I think, at times, Nils Lofgren’s work with Neil Young/Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band and overshadow a fine songwriter who has done so much more in his career than just be a member of two bands.
Like last time, this set ran for around two hours without any break, and even then, was a very short period of time to pick 50 years of music to perform. Included in this set though were some great songs from the early days of ”Grin” and the beautiful “Like Rain” from 1970 (always one of my favourites from Nils) through to later work of the past few years – “You”. In between some wonderful music and words – “Code of The Road”, “Black Books” (from “The Sopranos TV show”) , “Life” (from the Damaged Goods album with lyrics here by Lou Reed) and of course the always amazing “Shine Silently“.
Part of the pleasure always for me in going to hear someone like Nils Lofgren in concert is hearing what they have to say at times about how some music that they are associated with was created, and how many people can lay claim to not only being part of Neil Young’s iconic “After The Goldrush” album, but also many years later deciding not only to do an album of Neil Young songs (The Loner, Nils Sings Neil from 2008), but play on it a Martin D-18 guitar that once belonged to Neil Young (given as a gift from Neil to Nils at the end of recording “After The Goldrush”).
Nils Lofgren is on the road still after 50 years because for him, nothing will ever replace playing in front of a live audience, and the ease of connection with that audience is as much any reason why after so long he is still attracting fans worldwide to his music. There is a light humour on stage to Nils Lofgren, and at 66 years old he is obviously looking back a little and smiling, taking things as they come and never quite conforming to what people expect of you. This attitude to life is captured so well in the light hearted words of “Walkin’ Nerve”. We both have something in common tonight too. Nils never thought that he would be on stage celebrating his 50th year on the road putting on tap shoes to perform “I Came to Dance”, and when I first heard that song some 40 years ago I never imagined that I would be watching and listening to him celebrating 50 years on the road performing this song in tap shoes. That though is Nils Lofgren, never doing what you expect of him and always looking to do something new.
For more information on Nils Lofgren and his long history of not only his own music, but work with many other artists visit
Review by Tom King