Live At Budokan

Live At Budokan

By the time Willie Nelson and The Family made their way to Tokyo in early 1984, the “Live at Budokan” album had become shorthand for artists of a certain stature—artists like Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan at Budokan), Eric Clapton (Just One Night), and of course, Cheap Trick (the career-making Cheap Trick at Budokan). The appeal of the venue was on some level functional, as Japanese audiences tended to be quieter during performances than American crowds. Mostly, though, a headlining gig at the Budokan demonstrated an artist’s metaphorical reach: If you could make it in America, you could make it anywhere—and if you’d made it in Japan, you’d made it everywhere. This was Willie Nelson circa 1984: An artist synonymous with the creative possibilities of country music, one whose every breezy and seemingly unconsidered move had the potential to go platinum (and often did). Released in 2022, Nelson’s Live at Budokan is an essential document—and not just because it’s probably the best recording we’ll ever get of his band, The Family, in its classic form. The touch is light (“Mona Lisa”), the pace is brisk (as on a breakneck version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”), and the guitar-playing—by Nelson and Grady Martin—is weirder and more expressive than you might expect (especially on “Me and Bobby McGee”). It might be strange to say about such a seemingly peripheral release, but for those looking for an introduction to the long career of Nelson—a guy who put out 12 albums between 1982 and 1984 alone—Live at Budokan is actually a pretty good place to start.

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