Willie Nelson and Billy Bob Thornton at Assembly Hall

The night started off pitch black as the lights were extinguished in Assembly Hall. The anticipation expanded to zephyr status in the stadium. Flashlights were seen as dark figures fumbled their way into their spots on stage – then, out of nowhere, the lights flashed on and a wall of sound burst forth for the mostly over 50 crowd. Billy Bob Thorton and the Boxmasters started off with a foot-stomping, hand clapping number that seemed to last until Willie Nelson started.
Billy Bob can carry a tune, surprisingly, and The Boxmasters were no slouches on their instruments. Clad in old-fashioned black suits (some members of the band with black thick-rimmed glasses), shiny product-laden hair, and playing vintage instruments, it seemed as if time took a back step into the 1950s while the crowd gazed at the stage. Even though every song sounded the same, Thorton was on key while singing (impressively, with a cigarette in one hand for the most part of the show), and he even pounded a tune out on the drums. Joining Thornton and the Boxmasters on their last number, Willie Nelson and his harmonica player added their flair to close it up.
Nelson came as a soothing and familiar break for most as he started the second half of the show. With his sister playing a grand piano to his right, a very talented harmonica player to his left, an auxiliary percussion player that accentuated the highs and lows of each song at the most perfect of times, and a drummer on the simplest kit of a single snare and a kick drum, Nelson’s sound was tasteful, and the band set-up highlighted that infamous Willie Nelson style. Choppy at times to the point of almost being off beat, Nelson’s style ranged from playful and teasing and to melodic and calming. Within the first three songs the front of the stage was almost covered in women’s brassieres, of which Nelson hung on the headstock of his guitar. The bras became too numerous for Nelson’s guitar to handle though, so he moved the piles to the top of his amplifier right behind him. Throughout the show people continued to toss their undergarments on stage in a nostalgic gesture for the social activist on stage.
Nelson played some songs off his newer albums, but most from his older efforts. His talent as a live performer is still going strong – but he’s not much of a talker in between numbers. All he has to say seems to be right in his music, and that’s enough for him.

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