Apart from being a bona fide if somewhat unlikely superstar, there's something else quite unique about Willie Nelson: his audience. It's hard to imagine a more diverse assortment of fans than that which greeted the singer with a standing ovation at the Capital Centre last night.
Everyone, of course, turned out to hear the same thing: Nelson moving leisurely but steadily through a two-hour performance of country standards, Tin Pan Alley favorites and his own finely crafted songs. No dramatic flourishes, sonic blasts or mindless chatter emanated from the stage. The songs simply unfolded with the ease, assurance and understated eloquence Nelson has demonstrated numerous times before.
Most of the songs were familiar, but the singer made several ballads sound fresh again by subtly altering his phrasing. Honky-tonk and western swing numbers were driven by his band's vibrant rhythms and Mickey Raphael's pungent harmonica, while the crowd's foot-stomping enthusiasm enlivened such hits as "On the Road Again."
Throughout the concert, Nelson's ability to keep sentimental songs from sounding glib or insincere never failed him. His reedy, weathered voice was particularly effective on "Blue Skies" and "Let It Be Me," where his performance reflected a haunting melancholy. Concerts this satisfying are rare indeed.