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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nelson Sang Nilsson

Last night at Town Hall in Seattle, Sean Nelson of the band Harvey Danger (with whom he is pictured at left) fronted a 13-piece band and 11 backing singers in a long set of Harry Nilsson covers. I'd seen Sean sing the Who's Tommy all the way through a year and a half ago, so I was stoked to see this -- the man has pipes and passion. And I love Nilsson, and my beloved spouse likes him, so we went.

Magnificent show. Sean's vocal chops are more suited to hard rock than to Nilsson's inimitable blend of tender and delicate beauty, huge range, and raging wailing, but he sang with passion and held the stage and fronted a terrific band playing beautiful arrangements by the keyboardist, whose name I didn't catch -- Sean held up, he didn't disappoint. Three violins (who got drowned out in the louder numbers but sounded beautiful in the quiet tunes), 5 wind instruments, keyboards, bass, drums, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. Plus three excellent female background singers, and a choir of 8 kids looking to be about 7 years old joining the group on a bunch of numbers. Nelson was a funny and emotional and warm frontman, as I expected he would be, and many many moments in the show raised goosebumps. He called Nilsson's song "Maybe," which Streisand covered (I've never heard the original), "the ultimate ultimate Nilsson song," which pleased me -- (it was stuck in my head one day several weeks ago, and I hadn't remembered then that it was a Nilsson song).

I didn't know a lot of the songs and was glad to hear them -- a widely diverse range of lovely melodic and lyrically observant and witty songs, a unique sort of cabaret rock -- Nilsson's writing continually wowed.

Sean reminded us that last night was the anniversary of Nilsson's collaborator John Lennon's murder, and the encore closed with "A Day in the Life," which was thrilling to hear live. Lennon's song isn't as melodically glorious as many of Nilsson's, but it packs a deep emotional power, deeper than anything we'd heard all night, and hearing the orchestra feel its way through the semi-improvised glissandos was -- the word insists upon repetition -- thrilling. It struck me that Sean's voice was better matched for Lennon's than for Nilsson's. The drummer -- whose name I don't recall now -- played Ringo's drum fills -- and the backing singers joined Sean in the wordless section preceding the last verse -- really beautiful.

It was a labor of love and skill and effort, earning its two standing ovations -- a wonderful show.

(Photo of Nelson by Pipesman.)

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