Willie Nelson & Friends

24music_WEBreviews Willie Nelson & Friends

at the Greek, April 30

At one point Saturday night, the Greek Theater’s open-air stage was crammed with a dozen musicians helping Willie Nelson celebrate his 72nd birthday. Plus Jessica Simpson.

In addition to the extended Willie Nelson family (which now includes Willie, a sister and two sons), both chanteuses from the night’s opening acts and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons found their way onstage to give Nelson a hand. It was a hell of a show, with the shape-shifting assembly partying through more than 30 mostly megahits.

Plus Jessica Simpson.

Give her credit: The would-be pop diva could have spent her night elsewhere, before a more appreciative crowd. And Simpson, who plays Daisy Duke in this fall’s screen adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard (Nelson plays Uncle Jesse), showed genuine pleasure at the talent around her — before brashly mangling a center-stage duet of "Amazing Grace" and an awkward, Marilyn Monroe-esque "Happy Birthday." (When Simpson insisted on a second round for the birthday boy, no one else seemed to have heard.)

Simpson showed sense to exit fast, leaving the rest of the concert a hootenanny of ability. Nelson dominated, with improv guitar solos and that iconic voice on favorites such as "Night Life" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and the new "Superman" ("Too many pills, too much pot, trying to be something that I’m not/I’m not Superman"). It’s nice to see night steam coming off a 72-year-old.

Other highlights included Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah, who look set for post-Dad country careers. Lukas does terrific electric blues guitar, while Micah led on drums for about half the show — not bad when the guy you’re sitting in for is Paul English.

Also shining was opening act Susan Tedeschi, whose Janis Joplin–like voice and tight, tight, tight blues band trumped the following act, a very rocky Shelby Lynne, who acknowledged after her opening number, "That was pretty fucked up."

There was no encore when the Willie Nelson caravan said goodnight, and after such a fun, rambling time, that felt fine. Among the fans spotted basking in the Nelson glow: Vince Vaughn, Quentin Tarantino, and Jack Black of Tenacious D.

—Ben Sullivan

Stars, shoes, gossip and L.A. bonding . . .
The Promiseland benefit
at Union Station, April 28

If you weren’t at Mr. Cartoon’s Promiseland art auction and benefit April 28, you missed one hell of a Gathering of the Tribes. The party, held at Union Station, raised funds for L.A. Parks and Rec and Self-Help Graphics, and featured an L.A. who’s who of Mexican celebs and hip-hop folks. Cartoon, who is known for his tattoos, recently inked a deal with Nike to launch several limited-edition shoe lines, and walked around in the new tricolor (red, white and green) Mexican Nike Air Ones.

Promiseland was emceed by baseball announcer/Dodger Hall of Famer Jaime Jarrin and featured music by Eastside O.G. band Thee Midnighters featuring Willie G., plus Monterrey, Mexico’s eclectic party band Kinky. Milling in the crowd were Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, actor Danny Trejo (Heat, Con Air, From Dusk Till Dawn), and the baddest sound dude in film, Frank Gaeta (Motorcycle Diaries, Sideways). Also ran into a clean-shaven, dreadless Zacarias De La Rocha, fresh from a solidarity trip to Argentina. (For all those waiting on word of his solo album, Zacarias said he’s still working but would give me an interview when it dropped — holla, homey!) Kanye West, along with Yoked-out model Tyson Beckford, also made an appearance. But the coolest moment had to be hanging out with West Coast producer extraordinaire Fredwreck (Ice Cube, Snoop, Xzibit) and Imperial Highway homey and KDAY DJ Julio G. Fredwreck; Julio and I chambered up in Fred’s burgundy Escalade and bumped unreleased cuts from his upcoming album droppin’ in June. Tats, Mexicans and DUB sounds, you know how we do!

—Ben Quiñones

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