Listening again for the first time: rediscovering Nils Lofgren

All roads lead to Springsteen, so I first knew of Nils Lofgren as a member of the E Street Band, parachuting in to replace Miami Steve on the Born in the USA tour. 

When I discovered his own music, I fell hard - trawling second hand stores and record fairs for albums with his band Grin, bootlegs, solo studio work and live records. And I went to the still-missed flagship HMV store on Oxford Street on the day of any new release.

But the big thrill was the live show. On Bruce's rare visits he was a dot on a distant stage. Nils toured tirelessly in between visits to E Street and I saw him and his band this close at the Town and Country Club and Shepherds Bush Empire. I even bumped into him in Blackheath Village before a show in the Concert Hall - a stage phantom gliding through the streets of my childhood. 

Then he started touring a smaller show with multi-instrumentalist Greg Varlotta. These were wonderful showcases, but I missed the power of the full band, began to skip tours and listened to his music less.

Which brings me to the other night and the front row of the Barbican, ready to re-engage. The show was a joy. Nils hasn’t somersaulted across the stage in many years, but his musicianship is spectacular and powerful, his voice is sweet, heart open and he clearly loves performing to an audience that has been by his side (on and off) for decades. And then there are the songs …

Now that I’ve been writing for a few years, I listened in a different way - and it was a revelation. Beautifully told stories, powerful themes, intriguing concepts and arresting lyrics. So now, like Inigo Montoya, I'm going back to the beginning, listening more carefully and learning from someone who - while not an icon in their own right like Springsteen - has quietly created decades of beautiful and exhilarating work. I’m as excited now as I was 30 years ago.

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