Songs about Outlaws and Angels

Willie Nelson - Shepherd Bush Empire 4 April 2005

If you had not have fallen

Then I would not have found you

Angel flying too close to the ground


The first time I’ve heard Willie Nelson’s song was “Always on My Mind”, which become a hit during mid-80s. I was just in my junior high school, and that song provided me with the perfect words to say “I was wrong, I’ve learned the lesson, can we get back again?” stuffs. Other than the lyric, another bonus point of the song was that it can be slowly strummed in the basic keys of C-F-G-Em-Am, which means life was a lot simpler for a boy who didn’t have any talent in guitar playing (or any musical instruments, for that matter). Although it turns out that the song couldn’t make the difference to my hapless situation at the time, it continues to be one of my all-time favorite, especially since you can almost always found that song in those dark and smoke-filled karaoke halls across in Indonesia

Over the years, I started to collect his albums – tapes, CDs or mp3s. Willie is a prolific artist, and in addition to his own albums which he released regularly year-after-year, he was much in demand for joint performances with other artist. Music giants such as Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles to contemporary artist like Diana Krall and Wycleff Jean have performed duets with him.

His unique musical style cannot be defined simply to country music: among his greatest achievements was the “Stardust” album where he explored standard songs such as “Stardust” or “Autumn Leaves” in style that is wholly his own way, and on par with the classic, definitive versions by Nat King Cole or other great jazz vocalists. And unlike most singers, he sings songs uniquely; not very different from the way an old man “read” a story. His best works are mostly songs that he sings accompanied only by his own guitar or other minimal arrangement. It’s like listening to a poet reading his poem, a wise man giving his advice or a lover serenading his love song directly to the audience.

Unfortunately, he has never (and possibly will not ever) perform in Indonesia. So when I found out that he would perform in London, naturally I jumped to the chance of a lifetime of being in his concert. I chose the “stalls standing” ticket, hoping that I can get to the nearest spot to the stage. But when I went inside SBE at 8.30pm, the halls was so packed it took me 15 minutes to get a beer from the bar at the left side of the halls.

The concert start around 9.15pm with a hearty rendition of the Outlaws anthem “Whiskey River”, and the restless, house-packed audiences ecstatically welcomed it with big applauses. This being a concert by a music icon that has been putting his footprints in American music since 1950s whose latest album in last year includes duets with Norah Jones, Kid Rock and the likes, the audiences varied from Grannies with snow white hairs to twenty-somethings and every generation in between.

I lost track of all the songs that he performed during the concert, but most of the hits were there. The lyric of his corny duet with Julio Iglesias “To All the Girls...” was stretched to acknowledge his debt: “I owe…and owe…and owe…and owe...and owe…a lot I know” to the women in his life. “Always on my mind”, "Funny (how time slips away)" and other hits were either sung in medleys or singles, but all were served in Willie's trademark storytelling way.

The show -normally run for 120 minutes- was supposed to end with a final rendition of "Whiskey River". Needless to say, the crowd screamed out for more, and Willie came back to the stage for several songs. This happened for several times: Willie left the stage only to come back again for sing some extra songs. Unfortunately, after several encores the show ended at around 11.30pm, in which the crowd joined the Master in the classic gospel “I saw the light”.

Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound

I’d rather see you up than see you down

Leave me if you need to, I will still remember

Angel flying too close to the ground