Remembering: Neil Young and the Restless - Seattle 2/21/89 show
Here's a 20th Anniversary review of the first live performance of Neil Young's song “Rockin’ In The Free World” by Chris Horn. Chris wrote the review back in 2003 and was completely blown away that night and holds this show as one of his all time favorite live performance experiences. During this tour Neil was playing new songs that would end up on his ‘Freedom’ release.
Here is what Chris wrote about that night:
It was a rainy night and along the sidewalk near the Paramount Theater not a spare ticket was in sight. Having just moved to the area and the delightful news of a Neil show so soon, came the reality of it being sold out. I was under an umbrella, a block away, with a finger pointed up as the cars rolled by toward parking lots. A van pulled over asking if I needed one. Instant friendships were established in that grateful dead sticker clad vehicle as I hopped in to ride with them as they found a place to park.
We were 13th row almost center and I was in heaven.
The show stared innocently enough. Some solo acoustic of the very familiar variety. “Comes A Time” “Sugar Mountain” “Needle” “Goldrush” all performed very well.
The first hint that something special was in store was when Neil introduced Ben Keith on slide guitar. He then grabbed a banjo and I couldn’t believe it when they played “For The Turnstiles”. That was amazing, performed to perfection, and I didn’t think I’d ever hear it live. There were chuckles as he sang “who charge $40 at the door.”
He then brought the band out.
“I’m goin’ to bring a few of my friends out here”
“How ya doin’ out there”
“Time to get warmed up little now”
“This is a song, uh. A song I wrote, um, back there somewhere, I never made a record of it”
They then played “Siver And Gold”.
I know he said at Bridge a few years back that he tried different versions of this song and solo acoustic was his favorite at that time, but I’ll always love this one with Ben on peddle steel.
Long live Ben Keith on peddle steel guitar!!!!!
“Some of you might find yourself in this song”, said prior to playing “Days That Used To Be”.
Neil said before the next song.
“This guy asked him ‘Roy (Orbison) do you get sick of doing your old hits?’. (Roy replies) ‘No. No I don’t. As a matter of fact there was a time when I didn’t want anything more in the world than a hit. All I wanted to get was a hit. Just one hit. I like to do hits.’”
“This hit’s for you Roy!”
He then played “Heart Of Gold”.
Prior to leaving the stage for a break he said “We’ll be back in a few minutes to play some other kind of music for you.”
Before the second set, as the band was getting ready to start again, some audience feedback – “Rock And Roll!!!!” “Turn It Up!” Turn It Up!”
Hehe, little did we know just how much Neil would turn it up and blow our socks off.
They came charging out with a blistering “Heavy Love”. But the next tune “Don’t Cry” really shook the building and everyone to their core during the earthquake crunch cords.
All the new songs were amazing and instantly joyful to hear.
“Box Car” was spooky and put me in a zone not felt very often during new songs. The clanging sound of banging on a railroad rail added just the right touch, same thing during “Don’t Cry”.
The extended ending during “Mr. Soul” was at times driving and at others moaning while a hint of “Like A Hurricane” was thrown in mix.
Band introductions where preceded by this: “The Restless, Lost Dogs, Buffalo Chips, we change our name every 15 seconds. Because we’re getting older and things are going faster now.”
On to the very special treat of treats of the night.
“None of us have heard this song before except me. I don’t even know the words. It’s not Bad Fog, no.”
“It’s Rockin’ In The Free World.”
“It’s the first time anywhere.”
“You might hear a few mistakes but that’s not really very different from our other songs.”
“Now I just have to remember it myself.”
“So what’s going to happen now, it’s going to be like no one’s going to know what’s going on. And then it’s going to take form. This is like an art thing and it’s going to take form.”
“By the end, we’re all going to be rockin’ in the free world.”
They launch into this instant classic and everybody is obeying the call, dancing, shaking, wooooping, almost levitating to this wondrous performance. Maybe for extra practice they play the ‘1,000 points of lights’ verse twice.
“Bad Fog Of Loneliness” then followed and another song I didn’t ever expect to hear live.
Yet another “Hurricane” riff during HHMM’s ending.
“On Broadway” was quite the unexpected surprise in a show packed with them. I loved this cover complete with “gimmie some of that crack!”
Topping off the night was the most unreal “Tonight’s The Night”. I hold this one as my benchmark for all other’s I’ve heard/hear, very passionate. It’s painful to hear Neil go into a sequence where he is talking to Bruce and every time Neil would say something a loud note would interrupt him as if Bruce is blocking it out and not listening.
The band singing in the background, “tonight’s the night, tonight’s the night……’
“Bruce. Bruce put that shit down…” <
“Put that shit away…” <
“Put that shit away…” <
“You sell your guitar…” <
“Sell all your shit…” <
“Sell it!” <
“Trade it in…” <
“Play your guitaaaaaar” (in a soft moaning voice)
They then pull out all the stops with Neil wailing on ol’ black for a pounding ending.
** 1st set ** Comes A Time / Sugar Mountain / The Needle And The Damage Done / After The Gold Rush / For The Turnstiles / Silver And Gold / The Ways Of Love / Days That Used To Be / Heart Of Gold
** 2nd set ** Heavy Love / Don't Cry / Cocaine Eyes / Eldorado / Box Car / Mr. Soul / Cinnamon Girl / Rockin' In The Free World / Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Down By The River / Hey Hey, My My
** Encores ** On Broadway / Tonight's The Night
What a night and above all the new songs performed so well I still treasure that special nugget “For The Turnstiles”.
Thanks for the memories of that historic night Chris! A great review.
You can read more of Chris Horn's work and see his photos on Winterland Stories -- the legendary San Francisco music hall.
Also, see lyrics analysis of “Rockin’ In The Free World” and more Neil Young Concert Reviews.