The Price of Neil: When Art and Commerce Collide
Here at Thrasher's Wheat, we have a lot of respect for music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz. Mainly because Lefsetz was one of the few critics who got Greendale and passionately defended Young's artistic vision of Greendale. Here's the Lefsetz Letter on Neil Young in 2006:
I guess we love Neil Young because he seems to be beholden to no one. After all, it was HE who wrote "This Note’s For You", not Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton or even Keith Richards. He may be a prickly bastard, but he’s the last guy who hasn’t sold out. And therefore we can believe in him.
So when Lefsetz speaks, we try and listen.
After trying to counter arguments against the tour's high ticket prices recently we now have Lefsetz weighing in on Neil Young ticket prices. Lefsetz starts with a series of provactive tongue in cheek questions:
Did I miss a memo here? Or was I living under a rock? Has Neil Young not been touring for over a decade? Is he an unavailable recluse deigning to come back to society to let us hear "Heart Of Gold" one more time? Is he going to play the hits and only the hits? Giving the people what they want? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
This has gotten out of control. Does Neil have terminal cancer? Is this his last tour EVER? There is no band, so it’s not like we’ve got to see him this time for fear the original creation will never hit the road again. Actually, didn’t Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young JUST hit the road?
For starters, Neil does plan to play with a band on tour and he most definitely won't be playing just the hits. As for the cheap shot on cancer, that really doesn't dignify a response.
This guy’s been coasting on his reputation too long. Seen as a man of the people, it appears Mr. Young is only in it for himself. Furthermore, what’s this ONE CD with each PAIR of tickets? You can’t afford to give a disc to EVERYBODY? In a world where silver platters are essentially worthless, where you buy a hundred for FREE (with rebates), do costs really have to be cut here? Or is it assumed everybody going to see Neil is taking a date, whom they live with.
I suppose doing a one CD per ticket would be a better deal, but it's still ONE MORE CD than we got at the last 100 acts we've attended. Actually, we did get the Prince Musicology free CD at his show and it was cool to listen to on the way home. So with Chrome Dreams II we'll be able to listen on both the way to and from the show.
And there’s no download. Because they don’t sound fucking GOOD ENOUGH for Neil. Even though many of those who get the album will rip it to iTunes as soon as they get home, so they can transfer it to their iPod and listen in their car or in the gym… WHAT PLANET IS THIS GUY LIVING ON?
As for no download, it might be a little early to rule it out. Neil has streamed the 18 minute "Ordinary People" and may plan to stream additional tracks or the whole CD at a later date. The entire Living With War was streamed on his website on release.
You can be iconoclastic if you’re not fucking with me. But these ticket prices are an INSULT! Never mind $257 for the best seats in L.A., you’ve got to pay $132 in PORTLAND! I guess they’re richer in Seattle, with all that Microsoft money, because there the price is $157. Or if you’re really lucky, you live in Denver, where you get a break, the most expensive ducat is $104. BEFORE THE TICKETMASTER FEE!
As we said earlier, we went through all of this before. We're getting a small venue tour. Fans have good access to pre-sales for great seats. And -- maybe best of all -- those folks who usually sit behind us chattering away and swilling beer like it's a football game might just behave reasonably on this tour at these prices (or not even go).
An act’s worth depends on its fanbase. You have to nurture it, respect people, make them feel they’re along for the ride with you. At these prices, people feel like they’re being held up at gunpoint. And, NOT EVERY NEIL YOUNG FAN RAPED AND PILLAGED AND IS NOW RICH!
Only Neil is rich. But obviously, he needs more.
I don't think any serious, long time Neil fan has ever felt truly nurtured. I'm not sure I would even want to be nurtured. Yes, some fans are definitely priced out. Maybe Neil will somehow make it up to them?
Bob Dylan is a famous breadhead, but he doesn’t charge these prices, not even close. WITH Elvis Costello, the top ticket is $65.50 in Portland. And Dylan is coming off a number one album and critical kudos. For that price, you may not care that he mangles the old material. You’re privileged just to be there. And maybe, you’ll enjoy it too. (In truth, that’s Portland MAINE, not Oregon, but even in Chicago, Dylan and Costello are only charging $87, while Neil Young is charging $157! At the SAME THEATRE!)
As for Dylan's value compared to Neil's, I think the real difference is that Dylan has been touring pretty much non-stop for years. Dylan's market is tapped out. Neil's last solo acoustic tour was 1999 and aside from last year's CSNY tour he hasn't really performed that much over the past few years.
Actually, I enjoyed Neil Young’s "Greendale" album. And tour too. But it wasn’t sold out. It’s not like there’s a shortage of tickets to see the man. Hell, tickets are available EVERYWHERE for this tour.
And we noted above that Lefsetz was a maverick for supporting Greendale in the face of some fairly withering criticism of the album and tour. Of course, we've maintained all along that Greendale will eventually be recognized as one of the most important albums of 2003.
Just because everybody else is doing it, that doesn’t mean you should too. How many shows do you think people are going to go to if a couple has to drop nearly five hundred dollars to attend? Yup, you’ve got to park, you’ve got to eat, buy some merch…
Because everybody else is doing it?! How about who else can do it? Super high priced acts like McCartney, Stones, etc. are doing arena shows that are major extravaganzas. Also, not that this entirely justifies the prices or is any consolation, but there is a lower tier of pricing. Again, these are small arenas so the cheaper seats aren't necessarily terrible.
This is not Led Zeppelin. They were always into the money. And they haven’t been on tour since the SEVENTIES! They can go on the road and charge all they want, it’s a once in a lifetime event.
Thank goodness Neil isn't Led Zeppelin.
But not Neil Young. He’s still recording music. He wants us to care.
Neil, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Blame your manager, your agent, the promoter… But if you’re savvy enough to comment on the war in Iraq, you can’t really be that out of touch with the consumer. You want the buck to stop with Bush, then the buck stops here with you. Positively insane.
Ashamed? I doubt it. Neil knows a restless consumer when he sees it.
Lefsetz' rant has generated a number of comments (via dccantor on Rust) as well (but can't find complete comment thread?)
Thrasher has a feeling this is the tip of the iceberg on this topic. And this is before the first note of the tour is played. Maybe after the tour ends and folks have had a chance to hear the performances they'll be in a better position to justify the expense. Why?
Because live music is better.
Thanks govtneil on Rust!