Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Concert Review: "Ricky Nelson Remembered," with Matthew and Gunnar Nelson at the Dakota Jazz Club

Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of Ricky Nelson.

Rick Nelson with his sons Matthew and Gunnar, 1980's.

Ricky Nelson, circa 1960.
Ricky Nelson’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, of the rock group Nelson, performed a tribute show to their father at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on Sunday night. During the show, titled “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” Matthew and Gunnar played many of Ricky’s biggest hits, and showed some film clips of their dad. It was a great show, and it’s clear how much Matthew and Gunnar love their dad.

I’ve written about Rick Nelson before, two years ago I wrote an overview of his career and last year I shared my own playlists for my “Best of Rick Nelson” CDs, Volume 1 and Volume 2. I’m a big fan of his music, so I was excited when I heard that Matthew and Gunnar were bringing their show to the Dakota. As always, the Dakota was a great space for the concert, as it was intimate and inviting, with great sound.

Matthew and Gunnar Nelson have been playing music since their childhood, and they shot to fame thanks to their 1990 album “After the Rain,” which featured the Number One single “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.” That made the Nelson family the only family to have three generations of musical artists with Number One hits, as Ricky hit Number One with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man,” and Ricky’s dad Ozzie reached Number One on the charts back in the 1930’s with his big band.

The Nelson brothers shared some stories about growing up in Hollywood, and how their neighbor, who they called “crazy-haired guy,” was actually Bob Dylan. Their next door neighbor, who they called “Skinny Jesus,” was George Harrison. No wonder they grew up to be musicians. 

Matthew and Gunnar played and sang many of their dad’s biggest hits, like “Stood Up,” “Lonesome Town,” “Poor Little Fool,” “Travelin’ Man,” Hello Mary Lou,” and “Garden Party.” The bass player in their band is Tommy Vee, the son of Minnesota’s own 1960’s teen idol, Bobby Vee. The Nelsons invited Tommy Vee’s son and their drummer Noah Levy’s son up on stage to play on “Believe What You Say.” The youngsters, just 12 and 13, played drums and lead guitar and did a great job. Matthew and Gunnar spoke about how their dad let them open for him when they were just 14 years old and how much that meant to them. 

The Nelsons harmonize together beautifully, and in addition to their dad’s songs they also played two recent songs that they’ve written, “A Thousand Wild Horses” and “Just Once More.” Both songs were quite beautiful and touching; as “Just Once More” is about wishing they could see their dad one more time. Both Matthew and Gunnar are talented musicians with a lot of charisma and stage presence.

What struck me hearing all of Ricky Nelson’s hits again is how good his songs are. They are some of the best songs of the early rock and roll period, and they still sound fresh and vibrant today. It was a real treat hearing his sons play and sing those songs.

My only complaint with “Ricky Nelson Remembered” is that the film clips could have been longer. They could have showed clips of Rick singing some songs that they didn’t include in the show. I know that would have made the show longer, but I don’t think it would have detracted from the show at all. And for the record, seeing the clips of Rick Nelson is a reminder of what a remarkably handsome man he was. He was really just as handsome as Elvis, and he certainly aged better than Elvis did.

If you’re a fan of Ricky Nelson’s music, you’ll really enjoy seeing his sons perform his songs in “Ricky Nelson Remembered.”

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