Saturday, November 17, 2007

THE STAGE HECKLER: Neil Young still proving he's one of a kind

I've stalled my reporting on the Neil Young concert I saw last month, primarily because I was so blown away by the guy that I needed some time to digest the whole experience of seeing him live.

I'd been waiting years for a chance to see Neil Young perform live, and since he's one of my top 3 artists, it was especially exciting to see him for the very first time... like I felt as if I was being christened for the first time with something new that I didn't know before... almost like going to my first concert, Rush, back in 1984... close, but not quite the same.

To add, none of us knew what he was going to play that night. I had a notion that we were going to get the split set (acoustic followed by electric) based on his latest CD Chrome Dreams II (which was actually released on the day of the show, but I got it in the mail a few days early as a result of my ticket purchase that night), but Neil tends to do whatever he wants, so we knew nothing going into it... which was how I preferred it. I'd been spoiled with set lists from my other favorite bands before, due mainly to my stupid curiosity.

This time, I wanted to be surprised... and I was, pleasantly.

Here's the set list from the evening:

Acoustic set

  1. From Hank to Hendrix
  2. Ambulance Blues
  3. Sad Movies
  4. A Man Needs a Maid
  5. No One Seems to Know
  6. Harvest
  7. After the Gold Rush
  8. Mellow My Mind
  9. Love Art Blues
  10. Love is a Rose
  11. Heart of Gold

Electric set

  1. The Loner
  2. Everybody Knows this is Nowhere
  3. Dirty Old Man
  4. Spirit Road
  5. Bad Fog of Loneliness
  6. Winterlong
  7. Oh, Lonesome Me
  8. The Believer
  9. No Hidden Path
  1. Cinnamon Girl
  2. Like a Hurricane
There were some things that went on at this concert that I've never heard nor seen before.

Just prior to the beginning of the acoustic set, the usher came around to the audience in our section, barking out orders that apparently came from the artist himself, Mr. Young. The requests involved the following, assuming I'm not garbling things a bit:

  1. Please do not use any flash photography, as it disrupts the performer's concentration.
  2. Please refrain from getting up from your seat to use the restroom.
  3. Please refrain from shouting and talking during the performances.
The set lists he chose were especially interesting, in that he played songs from projects that he never released on any of his albums; with "Sad Movies" and "Love Art Blues" being the two culprits... now that's a very artsy fartsy thing to do.

Sure, the guy's aged a bit... and got lost and indecisive on the stage a couple of times... but he still rocks the house and leaves it all out on the stage.

He played a flawless acoustic set, part of which he seemed to be winging. Some research of set lists from other shows reveals that he mixes it up a bit from night to night, which explains some of his indecisiveness on stage... like when he paused to choose a guitar... then picked one up... then set it down... then took a drink of water... then got up to go over to the piano on the far right of the stage, where he sat for a few seconds doing nothing... (Shhh---there's an ar-teest on stage thinking...) Then he got up to go all the way across the stage to the other piano... only to break into "Everybody Knows this is Nowhere"... finally! Yeaaaa!

It was more charming and amusing than anything else. I saw it simply as an artist at work. It was nice to finally witness a performance where the artist was willing to to take a few risks. It was like watching a painter developing their work in progress.

After the intermission, Neil came onstage with an assortment of musicians from his prior bands; Crazy Horse (the drummer) and the Stray Gators (the latter band having accompanied him on his most commercially famous album of the 1970s, Harvest)... so the electric set was suited to play anything from any previous album in his massive cannon.

During most of the songs in the electric set, a roadie would come out onstage to place large paintings on an easel with the name of the song to be played printed on them. For me, the paintings were spoilers. The timing of the sign placement was often a bit off, to the effect that it would go up just before the song began... so I found myself covering my right eye so I couldn't see the sign, as I wanted to be surprised by the music and enjoyed the exercise of recognizing what tune he was playing.

Security seemed to be rather tight that night, but during the electric set, when "Spirit Road" began, some folks in the front got up from their seats to dance. Since security didn't to anything about it, the masses poured onto the floor to occupy the space between the front row and in the aisles. A reserved seats show essentially turned within seconds into one of general admission... so much for that $500 front row seat on eBay (the fella up front, not me).

Electric Neil was impressive too. I can't get enough of the distorted crunch of his harder songs. We were treated to a 20 minute extended freak-out version of "No Hidden Path" from the new album, in which Young WENT OFF noodling around with feedback from his guitar as he crunched and chopped his way through his classically unique soloing style.

We were then treated to a couple classics in the encore; heavy versions of "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like a Hurricane."

I would liked to have heard more, but that would involve a week long Neil Young festival of four hours sets---and we still wouldn't get through the man's catalog. I was happy with the mixed set of this evening.

My group walked out of the venue very impressed, and we all agreed that it was unlike anything we'd ever seen before.

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