Willie Nelson

At Budokan: 2/23/84

On a late-February day in 1984, a robust 50-year-old Willie and “Trigger,” his beloved Martin N-20, hit the fabled Tokyo stage running. In particularly powerful voice, he delivered an explosive 28-song performance covering favorites, Outlaw anthems, and pop chestnuts from his Stardust album. This particular band packed added wallop – lead guitarist and former Nashville A-Team giant Grady Martin.

Wondrous and incendiary picking moments abound. Willie and Trigger shred their way through the Texas polka “Under the Double Eagle” as well as “Me and Bobby McGee.” His lyrical eloquence enhances “Harbor Lights” and “Without a Song,” while “On the Road Again” features a rousing, melodic twin-lead interlude from Willie and Martin. A warp-speed “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” also features solos from both. The closing “Whiskey River” reprise becomes a three-way jam with Willie, Martin, and guitarist Jody Payne.

Martin, toting a Les Paul, has abundant moments. A master accompanist, he adds subtle, graceful amplified figures around Willie’s vocals, especially notable on a gorgeous “Blue Skies.” He expertly enhances a song’s emotional impact; pensive on “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” lyrical and swinging on “All of Me,” and staggeringly moving on “Stardust.” This may very well be Willie’s definitive concert recording.

This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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