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Nelson shows he's alive and well

Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, August 17, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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After a recent tour stop health scare, where he ended a concert early in Salt Lake City, Willie Nelson appeared to be healthy and in fine spirits. Although he changes up the order from night to night, Nelson performed many of the same songs he always plays live. And while his vocal range shows signs of deterioration - he more talks his songs than sings them these days - tonight was an evening when his guitar playing mainly took center stage.

Nelson, who was assisted by a sparse backing band that included regulars, including his sister Bobbie on piano and Mickey Raphael adding harmonica, still plays that beat up acoustic Trigger of his. Ah, but what a great sound he gets out of it. It's amplified in such a way that it almost sounds like an electric guitar at times. He served notice with the second song in, "Still Is Still Moving Me," that he would be stretching out his guitar fills in the most delightful ways with this show.

A few times, as on extremely familiar songs like "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," he encouraged the audience to take lead vocal. At every show, Nelson sings his signature songs, including "On the Road Again," a few Hank Williams songs, hits he wrote for others (e.g. "Crazy"), a pot-related song or two, exemplified by "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" and a few gospel songs. Are his shows predictable? Of course! However, due to the legacy he's created with this repertoire, he's earned the right to stick with tried and true numbers.

Toward show's end, Nelson was joined - unannounced - by old friend Kris Kristofferson and opener Kacey Musgraves on backing vocals. It's natural to be concerned whenever older artists like Nelson cut their sets short. However, Nelson made it clear by his performance tonight that he is very much alive and well. And it was sweet to see him receive a little help from his friends.

Musgraves was clearly thrilled to be there. She didn't disappoint, with a set that included hits, such as "Merry Go 'Round" and closer "Follow Your Arrow." She also informed the audience she is preparing a new recording and sang one mellow song from it titled "Golden Hour." She also said there are many happy songs on the way because she has much to be happy about these days. She covered Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" early on, which works better as a country song than you might imagine, and also dedicated "Rhinestone Cowboy" to the late Glen Campbell.

Pairing these two artists presented a still relevant performer from the past (Nelson), with one of country music's best contemporary performers (Musgraves). Both continue to follow their arrows, wherever they point.