A live onstage one-two punch lands here Friday and Saturday: Willie Nile at WAMC’s The Linda Friday and Tinsley Ellis Saturday at Caffe Lena. Each powerfully represents a particular region’s unique musical flavor. Nile makes northeastern big-city rock while Ellis celebrates southern rocking blues. Both are as authentic as it gets.
In one compact package, Willie Nile is a hyper-articulate and persuasive writer and fiery, intense rocker. He’d sound antique – 1960s folk-rock fire – if he weren’t so relentlessly, refreshingly contemporary.
He’s led powerful bands here since 1980, playing almost everywhere; but he particularly loves The Linda. His full-band shows shake the walls, but I also saw him play a stunning solo show there, on crutches. Once when he took the stage without an introduction to open for The Roches at Page Hall, a dazzled/curious audience member exclaimed, “Who ARE you?”
Buffalo-born, but now the soul of New York City, Nile plays solo on Friday. He’s as powerful, as rock and roll, as Hamell on Trial. Power and principle fuse in Nile’s music to advocate, arouse, seethe and soothe. A one-man manifesto of compassion and equity, nobody in recent decades has written as much and as well as this energetic and passionate dynamo of music as movement, as morality play. He’s made nine albums in the past 12 years, including the new “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” And, who else has penned a cry of outrage as deep, as desolate, as caring as “Cell phones ringing in the pockets of the dead” about our age of deadly division and hate?
“I’m very much looking forward to playing The Linda on Friday night. It’ll be a solo show and a night of storytelling and playing all kinds of songs with some favorites and some rarities,” said Nile by email. “I rarely do solo shows so they’re always unique, different and intimate.” He promised, “I will still be rockin’ so the fire department will be notified of the possibility of the roof blowing away…Can’t wait!”
Brad Ray opens for Willie Nile on Friday at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). 8 p.m. $25-30. 518-465-5233 ext. 158 www.thelinda.org/event/willie-nile-5/
Tinsley Ellis just released as strong an electric blues album as I’ve heard in years – “Devil May Care,” his 20th – and plays that fresh music live on Saturday at Caffe Lena.
Like Willie Nile, guitarist, singer and songwriter Ellis went way prolific during the pandemic, penning 200 new tunes since being forced off the road early in the tour for his last release, “Ice Cream in Hell.” A month after heading home, he started sharing those new tunes with fans. Ellis worked with keyboardist-producer Kevin McKendree to select the 10 best. McKendre toured in Delbert McClinton’s band for years and played in the John Oates/Jim James All Star Rock and Soul Dance Party that rocked Bonnaroo a few years back, but I digress.
Ellis and McKendree chose the tunes on “Devil May Care” very well indeed.
Georgia-based Ellis rocks sunny back-road grooves that recall the Allman Brothers both in their suave assurance and the hard-wired fire of power glide guitars with punched-up keyboards. It’s strong, sweet and all of a piece with his high-conviction vocals.
This music means it.
And it moves with a veteran’s easy confidence, either up-tempo or laid-back. Extra credit, by the way: my musician brother Jim Hoke (also in the Oates/James All Star Rock and Soul Dance Party at Bonnaroo) plays a bunch of hot saxophone on here.
Ellis plays and sings Saturday with drummer Erik Kaszynski and bassist Andrew White at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). 8 p.m. $45 general, $40 members, $22.50 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org