Winnipeg 2008: The Neil Young Concert Experience
Neil Young - Winnipeg 10/16/2008
Last month, our buddy Bill Laing attended Neil Young's Winnipeg concert. After the concert, while still in a post-concert bliss, Bill was interviewed by CBC radio on his experience where he was described as "one of Neil’s most devoted fans". (This is the interview where the interviewer described Rusties as "insane". Interview can be heard here.)
What follows is Bill's full experience of the concert -- from acquiring tickets all the way thru to the final encore. Thanks for sharing Bill!
A typical rock concert tends to last two to three hours in length, but the Neil Young Concert Experience for this fan, lasted a full thirty days. From buying the tickets online, to counting down the days before the concert, to the last encore of “A Day in the Life”, Neil Young had occupied most of my waking day.
Two minutes to ten and my stress level was through the roof. Tickets were about to go on sale and my computer skills were not up to what they should be. My palms were sweating and my heart was pounding as I saw the “find tickets” prompt. Nervously, I clicked “two tickets, best available”.
I knew I was now committed to buying the most expensive seats, but let’s be honest; I would pay almost any price for these tickets. As I went through each step in buying the tickets online I realized how much I hated this technology. I finished the last step, only to be sent back to the beginning of the process. I guess there must have been thousands of other fans trying to buy tickets at the same time as me. Frankly, I didn’t care about the “others”, I wanted these tickets! I was now fighting a sense of panic as I went through the whole process again, only to be bumped back a second time. I don’t know if someone was playing a cruel joke on me, but as I was bumped back a THIRD time, I could hardly control my anxiety. Finally, after the fourth attempt, I was rewarded with two tickets: row 11, section 118, seats 15 and 16, just right of stage. Perfect seats for an anticipated “perfect concert”.
Waiting for Neil’s concert to arrive reminded me of waiting for Christmas when I was a child, in otherwords,” How many more sleeps?”
I kept a constant eye on the calendar and as October 16th drew near,my anticipation and excitement rose accordingly. Finally, concert day arrived and everything in my life came to a halt. Even though the show was to start at 7:00 p.m., I started getting ready at noon. With an hour’s drive into Winnipeg, I prepared by choosing my favourite Neil Young CD’s to play in the car for the trip into the city. My wife, Lauren, had become used to my Neil Young obsession, but not so used to having to endure Neil’s music in the car “all the time.” Today was to be no exception. With “Silver & Gold” in the player, we headed off into Winnipeg a full four hours prior to showtime. I was anticipating the possibility of car trouble and was taking no chances. I knew I would be able to relax once I was at the MTS Centre. All I could do was try and control the building excitement that was racing through my body.
We arrived at the Centre at 6:15 p.m. and headed straight for the t-shirt vendor. I had budgeted for a shirt, even though I knew it would be more than any sane person might pay, however, at this point I knew my sanity was questionable. I chose a black shirt with Neil’s image on the front and list of his concert dates on the back. I would have loved to have bought a “Tonight’s the Night” shirt, but that was a then and this was now. My wife bought a shirt for herself AND paid more than I did! I didn’t think she was a convert, but maybe she has been faking it all along?
The show started precisely at 7:00 pm., with the band Everest opening the show. I was not familiar with this group, but found their “sound” fit perfectly. Everest played a thirty-minute set followed by the more familiar Death Cab for Cutie. I had been looking forward to hearing this band, as I was somewhat familiar with their music. Even with “technical troubles” they did not disappoint. I found myself thinking how much they reminded me of those “other Seattle based groups” I had come to admire. Again, a perfect fit for the “Neil Young Concert Experience”. “Death Cab for Cutie” left the stage around 9:15, and after a brief pause for stage preparation, the moment I had waited a month for had arrived.
From the opening “Love and Only Love”, I knew Winnipeg was in for a magical experience. Neil’s vocals were precise and easily distinguishable above his backing band of: Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, Chad Cromwell, Anthony Crawford, Pegi Young and Larry Cragg. Next, came the familiar “Hey Hey, My My", and although I prefer Neil’s acoustic version, this electric sound was the right version for tonight. I will be the first to admit I like “acoustic Neil” over “electric Neil”, but that night Neil could have been any “Neil” he wanted to be.
Neil followed up with “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”, “Powderfinger” and “Spirit Road”. The latter track was the surprise of the night for me as it sounded so much better live than on the album.
I was wondering before the concert if Neil would acknowledge Winnipeg in any special way. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young had played in Winnipeg in 2006 during the “Freedom of Speech Tour” and I was disappointed that Neil didn’t make more of a mention about his musical roots in Winnipeg during the sixties. Tonight, however, Neil did not disappoint. The local news paper the “Winnipeg Free Press” was involved in a labour dispute with its workers and they had walked out on strike. Neil told the audience how his father, Scott Young, had worked for the paper when he was a young man. Neil questioned the fact that there would be no one to write a review of the concert, therefore,” He would write his own review for the paper”. This comment of course brought a huge applause from the audience.
Highlight # 1
Six songs into the set Neil launched into “Cortez the Killer” and a “warmth of emotion” swept over me. I consider “Cortez” to be Neil’s most “haunting number”. I also noticed how much “into it” my wife was. It was obvious her conversion to “the Neil side” was taking place.
Neil finished this part of the set with “Cinnamon Girl” and then surprised us with “Oh' Lonesome Me”. I was expecting “Helpless”, as he had played it in Minneapolis, but “Oh' Lonesome Me” was a very welcomed addition. Neil switched to his pump organ and launched into “Mother Earth”. I was not familiar with this tune, but immediately recognized the melody from an old English folksong I’d heard many times before.
Alone on stage, with only his D-45, Neil began that familiar riff to “The Needle and the Damage Done”. Of all Neil’s material, this song is my favourite and the one song I was looking forward to the most. It was also a favourite of the crowds as they all but drowned out Neil’s voice with their own rendition of the song. Sadly, it ended far too soon.
“Unknown Legend”, “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man” followed, thrilling the audience and this fan to the maximum. It was then that the band began to play “Get Back to the Country”, however, not everyone was together and Neil had to stop the band. Turning to them he said, “Hey, that’s just not good enough, this is Winnipeg”.
With his acoustic set finished, Neil strapped on “Ol' Black” and launched into “Just Singing a Song, Sea Change, and When Worlds Collide”. I had not heard any of these songs before and wondered if these were new songs or songs I had just missed along the way.
I first heard of Neil Young in 1969 when I was but a lad of nineteen. “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” had just been released and although I knew of the Buffalo Springfield, somehow I hadn’t put two and two together. Growing up in rural Manitoba I hadn’t heard of Neil Young and the Squires and hadn’t realized he had Manitoba roots. When Neil went to California to seek his “fame and fortune”, I was not aware this was the same Neil Young with a new band called Crazy Horse. However, once I heard “Cowgirl in the Sand”, I became an instant fan.
With the concert drawing to a close, the familiar riffs of “Cowgirl” brought an immediate reaction. This was the first song I had learned to play on guitar and continues to be one of my all-time favourites. Equally a favourite, “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “A Day in the Life” followed, bringing everyone in the sold-out MTS Centre to their feet. Sadly, it ended before I could fully digest what I had just experienced!
I have to admit I stayed in my seat throughout the whole concert. Not because I wasn’t “into the music”, rather that I wanted to savour every second of this man’s genius. Like a bottle of single malt scotch, Neil Young only gets better with age. I left the concert wondering if I would ever get another chance to see Neil Young in concert again. (Neither one of us is getting any younger and life can be so unpredictable). If this was to be the last time the opportunity would come my way, then so be it. I knew I had just witnessed the most inspiring and electrifying personality in the music business that we’ve come to call “rock-n-roll”. This was not just a concert, but rather one of the most inspirational and spiritual events of my life.
Thank you, Neil!