Nilsson In Concert

During the early 1970s while Harry was living (some of the time) in London he recorded two ‘shows’ or studio concerts for the BBC.  For a man who never really played live (a few TV appearances and a manic spot at the 1982 Beatlefest excepted) these shows have taken on an almost iconic aura in the 'Harryverse'.  Here is a review of the first of those two concerts:

Derek Taylor does a nice little intro (as my recording is from a tribute showing just after Harry's passing away). Then we see Harry, seated at a full size grand piano wearing a pale blue shirt, sleeveless blue sweater with diamonds motif and jeans. He looks much younger than I remember and very blond. The beard and moustache are so light they are barely visible from some angles. Right from the start Harry looks extremely nervous (even though I doubt the audience seen throughout and to which I later refer were ever there!). He looks down at the keys or has eyes closed almost all the way through the concert.

1. Mr. Richland - much slower than on Aerial Ballet with just Harry at the piano. Very lovely to listen to and incorporating 'One' in the middle a la Aerial Pandemonium Ballet.

2. Gotta Get Up - again a bit slower, I think but a nice acoustic version with some great intricate piano work at the end - an ascending accelerando which must have taken some doing. Who he think he is - Rick Wakeman?

3. Walk Right Back - the highlight of the show, not just ‘cos it wasn't released until the Buddha APB remaster but... it starts as a Nilsson duet with one Harry at the piano (dressed as before) and another to his right in a beige jacket. Then a very playful little disembodied HN head joins in on the other side to make a trio - wonderful! This third head looks happier than I have ever seen Harry look - it must have been enormous fun and all the nerves are gone here. A little harmonica duet between numbers 2 and 3 segues into...

4. Let the Good Times Roll. very harmonious and most enjoyable but - at the end only one person in the 'audience' claps - guess who? Its Harry himself (number 4) complete with cigarette in mouth!

5. Lifeline. Harry does his own echo effects here which sound strange at first - until you realise they work! Yet another little joke about half way through "ubbleuddleuddleuddle" performed 'live' just as on the original recording. But...again no-one claps and HN looks upset as some of the audience get up and leave. He sucks his thumb (now all say Aaaaaaah!)

6. Harry turns on a little TV monitor and watches Think About Your Troubles - from the TV version of The Point  Of course, the audience clap the TV monitor!

7. Joy. Now this sounds nothing like the Son of Schmilsson version and it's interesting to almost 'be part of' the evolution of a Nilssong. This song has a special place in my (broken) heart (refer to my poem I Hated Being a Teenager elsewhere on this site) so it was doubly interesting for this Schmilssonite. Schmashing !

8. At the end of Joy a Hitler look-alike is the only one to clap. HN rolls 3 oranges down the keys and juggles (has the circus come to town?)  The audience cheer! Another bit from The Point - Are You Sleeping - plays on the monitor.

9. Harry now moves from the piano to the guitar - and he does play very well. Without Her is the song, the tune being the original PSS version (I never did understand why he tried to change what was perfect to the version on APB) I have always thought that the cello and flute parts were essential ingredients in what made this song so special but, honestly, you don't miss them a bit here - this version is just so lovely.

10. This is the famous Coconut sequence - the gorilla version! There are three gorillas in silly bowler hats (like the Stan Getz trio) playing piano, guitar and woodblock (coconut?) I think that, musically, this version is better than the one we all know, Harry's extra backing vocals adding a new dimension. Also, I think it's more laid back and 'cool' - but I can't put this and Reservoir Dogs together in my mind at all (unless the three gorillas are Mr. Black, Mr. Blacker and Mr. Blackest!)

11. The last song is 1941 - with guitar. Again it's slower than the released song and acousticism seems to suit the song well. As the song ends the camera pans up to the lighting gantry where 2 technicians grimace at each other and make the 'stinks' gesture…straight out of Citizen Nilsson…Back on the ground floor Harry gets a custard pie in the face and the show ends.

Harry's sense of humour and nervousness pervade the show but the latter does not detract at all from the performances. That, and the fact that he had no idea how to satisfactorily end most of the songs, may go a long way to explaining why 'Nilsson Live in NYC' never happened and why its not in our racks. As Derek Taylor says in his intro that's one of the things which makes this show so precious. I really hope it gets a release some day so we can all buy it in a proper box (maybe a little jade one?) and share in the warmth of Harry's company.


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