Review: Life after Bruce for veteran Nils
Rock: Nils Lofgren, Vicar Street, Dublin
Nils Lofgren is best known as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. As a solo artist, the 64-year-old has carved a rewarding, minor-key career as tortured troubadour - presenting himself to the world as a man who has lived, loved and lost, and somehow retained the ability to laugh at his misfortunes and at the innate absurdity of life.
Living up to the cliché of the grizzled veteran, Lofgren slouched on, looking endlessly rumpled - as if he'd spent the previous half hour in the dressing room practising his finest Keith Richards impression. Yet the New Jersey native's studied crotchetiness was initially offset by the presence of an outsized harp - instrument of choice of the eternally earnest.
Your heart sank a little when Lofgren, perched unsteadily on a stool, started to plink the strings. Had Bruce's lieutenant come to us in the guise of ethereal weirdo?
Such misgivings were quickly laid to rest as a roadie dashed out with an electric guitar, the harp hastily wheeled into the wings. Plugging in and tilting his head, Lofgren shape-shifted into a growling axeman, every shrieking note extenuated past the point of no return.
His playing was, of course, peerless (Springsteen, with whom Lofgren has performed since 1984, would expect nothing less). Stepping comfortably between acoustic and electric, Lofgren laid down gilded solos, pulling rock god faces as he revelled in the music's full-fat silliness.
Alas, his songs were not always the equal to his musicianship. Typical of the evening were Americana dirges Walkin' Nerve and Man in the Moon. Here Lofgren delivered effective pastiches of Dylan and Steve Earle without ever threatening to surpass his influences (we shall skip over his bizarre, accordion-assisted version of Fields of Athenry)
What rescued the performance was Lofgren's agreeably flinty personality and his determination to leave everything on stage for his fans. Each guitar line was stretched to within a centimetre of its natural existence while Lofgren pushed his croon almost to breaking point. Cloud-bursting ideas were at a premium but Lofgren committed so ardently to rock's hoariest clichés it scarcely mattered.