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Friday, January 30, 2009

Concert Review of the Moment: Neil Young in Sydney, Australia Concert Reviews - 01/24/09

Photo Gallery by Richard Sharman - Black Shadow Photography

The Neil Young Concert Review of the Moment is from Sydney, Australia - 01/24/09 by doubtfulsounds:
It has been 26 years since I first saw Neil Young perform at the Mt Smart Supertop in Auckland, New Zealand. I was 11 years old at the time and it was a moment that changed my life. It was the first concert I had been to where the act played two contrasting sets, one acoustic, the other electric. Neil was hit by a coin during the show and stormed off stage, only to return (much to the relief of the crowd) to admonish the thrower and proceed to work out his anger and pain through a stampeding second set. My obsession had begun and the Y section of my record collection began to grow, starting with Live Rust and then working back.

Fast forward to 2009, my third NY experience (after the Greendale tour a few years back) and the anticipation was high. Recent shows have been receiving rave reviews and he seems to have settled on a band that can play with both finesse and power to support set lists that are delivering a balance between the old and the new, the ‘hits’ and lesser known gems.

In support My Morning Jacket played a solid set that was tailored to their more Americana songs and included the soaring ‘Gideon’ alongside ‘I’m Amazed’ from last years Evil Urges. As is often the norm for a support band at a large venue they were mainly playing to the crowds filing in, finding their seats and checking their text messages. This lack of attention didn’t deter them and one was reminded of what a great band MMJ are, especially the voice and guitar of Jim James.

The house lights dimmed, the crowd roared and a familiar figure strode on stage. Launching straight into the slashing chords of ‘Love And Only Love’ it was immediately clear that this was going to be a special night. The sound was loud and crystal clear from the outset and Neil’s vocals seemed to ride on top of the music with a clarity that is often missing from concerts this size. The song (from the brilliant Ragged Glory) was a wake up call to the masses that this wasn’t going to be a nice run through the classics of their youth, it was a clarion call that Neil was still full of hope, love and anger and he was here to play to you rather than for you.

‘Sea Change’ followed and it was the first of three new songs (‘Just Singing A Song’ and ‘Light A Candle’) that will presumably appear on the forthcoming Fork In The Road. They all worked in the live setting and followed the social commentary lyrical style that he used to great effect on Living With War. Strong backing vocals from Peggy and the band gave the songs a communal feel and one has more confidence in the new album than the impression gained from online comments recently.

Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is possibly my favourite NY album so when the first guitar notes of the title track rang out my heart leaped. Its rollicking and freewheelin’ sound reflects an innocence of a time long gone but it still sums up Neil’s sound with the country, folk and rock n roll elements all sitting together perfectly. Another of those songs that has come to symbolise what Neil stands for is ‘Cortez The Killer’ which tonight was magical. The air in the soulless venue seemed to change as the lazy drums and rolling bassline set the mood for one of the greatest emotive guitar melodies to glide and soar, high above the heads of the audience, “dancing across the water”. The magic in the song is the way it operates in its own time, the vocals appearing as another instrument rather than being the focus of the song. The moment when the guitar took off again was true beauty.

After a strong ‘Cinnamon Girl’ Neil stepped back from the electricity and delivered a mid set batch of mainly acoustic based songs that worked perfectly. Featuring two tracks off the classic Harvest Moon, ‘Unknown Legend and ‘One Of These Days’ were tributes to both his wife Peggy and friends of times past. The heartfelt simplicity of the songs and the amazingly rich acoustic guitar sound made you feel like you were in a small club rather a cavernous concrete bunker.

Words (Between The Lines of Age) was another of the highlights. Infinitely better than any recorded version I have heard it was a heavy and lush rendition. The changes from verse to chorus were weighted with drama and emotion, guitars chopping and notes pealing over Chad Cromwell’s tumbling drums. The freefall and swirling end of the song staggered on and on before collapsing under its own weight. Like ‘Cortez’ it was one of those moments that you imagine would be like being in the eye of a storm with destruction dancing just beyond your fingertips.

If anything the only slight disappointment was the end of the show where Neil showed an obvious disappointment at the lack of crowd interaction and dancing. Neil and Rick Rosa’s gestures for everyone to get up and a mock (mocking?) heart attack made it clear that he was giving his all but didn’t feel the love coming back at him. ‘Rockin’ In the Free Word’ ended the main set and there was a noticeably abrupt end to the song which would have normally provided a crescendo of soloing and sonic decay. Returning to the stage he finished with the customary run through ‘A Day In The Life’ that was a great version but definitely a conclusion that was missing something. The encore needed a ‘Like A Hurricane’ or ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ to really bring the crowd to their feet and end the show on a high.

Two and a half decades after first experiencing a Neil Young show I walked away with my expectations exceeded and a feeling that I had again seen Neil at his best. After all the tours, albums, mis-steps and controversies he can still stand on a stage with Old Black and simply let the music flow through him and into the hearts and minds of others.

Love and only love will endure
Hate is everything you think it is
Love and only love will break it down
Love and only love.


Love And Only Love
Sea Change
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Spirit Road
Cortez The Killer
Cinnamon Girl
Mother Earth
The Needle And The Damage Done
Light A Candle
Four Strong Winds
Unknown Legend
One Of These Days
Get Back To The Country
Just Singing A Song
Rockin' In The Free World
A Day In The Life

More on Neil Young concert in Sydney, Australia - 01/24/09.

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At 2/02/2009 10:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

was 20 years ago, you must have been 17. He did not come to Auckland in 1983

At 2/02/2009 10:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The concert you refer to was 22 April 1989. The venue back then was known as the Tent and later became known as the Mt Smart Supertop. Neil Young has only played in Auckland twice, once in 1986 then again in 1989.

At 2/02/2009 10:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies, my last post, he has played in Auckland three times now including the Big Day Out, 2009

At 2/09/2009 03:04:00 AM, OpenID doubtfulsounds said...

you are correct! it must have been the 89 concert at the Supertop!


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