Willie Nelson

TCC Music Hall, Wednesday, Sept. 29

Before a not-quite-sold-out audience (which seemed rather elderly and complacent where we sat, but proved to be as diverse as any other Willie show in the outdoor courtyard before, after and during the intermission--the blue-hair contingent was represented by both elderly women and punks who self-tinted in the bathtub), last week the legendary Willie Nelson reminded everyone why he's just plain Willie.

Those who pay close attention to such matters were worried that the surgery he underwent to correct his carpal tunnel syndrome at the beginning of the summer, just before he headed out on a co-headlining tour of minor-league baseball stadiums with Bob Dylan, might hamper his subsequent performances.

"I had some hand trouble, so I brought along a few ringers," he announced, by way of introducing two new additions to his band: his sons Lukas on guitar and Micah on percussion and drums. Still, Willie played more far more lead guitar than any of us expected, and his trademark idiosyncratic meanderings on Trigger's neck were gorgeous as always, both technically proficient and soulful. In recent years, Nelson seemed to rush his way through shows--annoying at the time, but forgivable once he admitted his carpal tunnel syndrome had grown so painful that he dreaded playing live.

If nothing else, his Tucson stop made it apparent that he still truly loves performing. Though his set lasted only 100 minutes or so (as compared to the two- or three-hour marathons of yore), he took his time on each song, restoring his distinctive guitar and vocal phrasing to full potential. Yes, there were deleted songs from his usual and ever-shifting set list (which is to say, there are standbys that almost always get played, as well as rarities which normally don't, in most every show), but who wouldn't rather see a somewhat shortened set of songs performed correctly and honestly, instead of a drawn-out sleepwalk through the songs he imagines his audience wants to hear?

Under present circumstances, his showing couldn't have been any better, and it was more than enough.

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