FLASHBACK: Concert Review of Neil Young, Williamsburg, October 7, 1978
Concert Review of Neil Young at William and Mary College
October 7, 1978
Of the many, many Neil Young concerts we've attended over the years -- without a doubt -- our all time favorite has to be the Rust Never Sleeps tour we saw on October 7, 1978 at William and Mary College, Williamsburg, Virginia.
31 years ago today.
In many ways, it was in the days, weeks and months that followed that pretty much solidified our belief that Neil Young was a musical force to be reckoned with for some time to come.
And not just because it would be both the first and last time we would ever hear the song "Thrasher" performed live.
In so many ways, the concert was unlike anything we had ever experienced. The Woodstock stage announcements. The huge stage props. Neil wandering the stage playing acoustic wirelessly with crystal clarity. The RoadEyes moving about the stage with purpose and fervor. The absolutely deafening sonic assault that is known as Crazy Horse.
So when somehow over on our little Twitter feed comes a link to the William and Mary College student newspaper The Flat Hat, we were just totally stunned by the following review.
Gimmicks, Acoustics Detract From Young's Performance
by John Messina, Jr.
Flat Hat Staff Writer
Neil Young and his band, Crazy Horse, appeared at William and Mary Hall last Saturday night for one show. It might have been better if he had canceled his appearance this year, too.
Showtime was at 8 p. m. The entertainment began three-quarters of an hour later, which wasn't really that bad because the hiatus gave the audience plenty of time to ponder the significance of the gargantuan mock reinforced instrument cases, the Roman chariot, the staircase leading nowhere, and other assorted stage props.
As the house lights were extinguished, Jawas from Star Wars swarmed the stage, moving equipment into position as Coneheads took their places at the mixing boards onstage. The feeble house public address system blared out Jimi Hendrix's guitar version of the U. S. national anthem while three Jawas dragged a ten-foot tall cardboard replica of a 1926 Electrovoice microphone to center stage, struggling to right it Iwo Jima style. Hendrix's "Anthem" suddenly swirled into the Beatles' "A Day In The Life."
The large blue instrument case up stage left was lifted to reveal a prone human figure in fetal position clutching a Guild 12-string. The figure rose and broke Into "Sugar Mountain." ("Jeez, that doesn't even look like Neil Young; he's shaven with an awful pudding-bowl haircut...")
The show began strongly, acoustically -- just Young, his 12-string, and his voice. He rambled through "I Am A Child," and two songs from his new album, the title cut, "Comes A Time," and "Already One", after which he wandered over to the piano for "After The Goldrush".
There was not a word or a nod of acknowledgment to the Wild,enthusiastic applause. Indeed, this gangly, gargantuan scarecrow hunched over the keyboard was unusually quiet and business-like, almost sterile.
The Hall's P.A. system hindered the over-all sound, but the mixing board operators were of no help either. They consistently failed to modulate voice, guitar and harmonica throughout Young's solo numbers. However, the band was pushing the P.A. extremely hard during the much-too, short electric set, and the P.A. lost the struggle, hissing incessantly with a great deal of bottom distortion.
Young ended his opening solo set with "My, My, Hey, Hey (Rock 'n' Roll Is Here to Stay)," afterwards climbing into a large sleeping bag to be carried off by several Jawas.
The audience should have done likewise at that point.
During the ten-minute break preceding the twenty-minute electric set, P.A. announcements from Woodstock (yeah, that four-day-long music festival that took place in upstate New York a decade ago) permeated the Hall. Many of the more familiar ones from both LPs and the movie could be heard. Young repeated the warning about the brown acid that had been circulating, and the Hogfarm slogan, "If you're too tired to chew, pass it on."
Crazy Horse had a new organist-rhythm guitarist for this trip, Frank SanPedro. He was doing well until Young totally botched the double-lead runs on "The Loner", whereupon SanPedro paid him back during the last chorus by trying to harmonize above
Young's "Mickey Mouse" soprano. It was a pitiful display all the way around.
Young had a whole battery of electronic gadgets for his black Les Paul guitar, and he used them all during the electric numbers: the phase-shifter, fuzz-tone, wah-wah, tremolo, and reverb. They simply blitzed the P.A. He attempted Hendrixian lead riffs on "Gotta Get Away" midway through the second set, but revealed a stuffed shirt with no soul.
He was not practicing what he was preaching, and perhaps that was the biggest disappointment. His lyrics and the tone of the entire show were saying, "Get straight, clean up your act," but Young was playing and acting as if to say, "See how loud I can be with all these Hendrixian motifs."
If Young is trying to pick up where Hendrix left off, he is close, but too vague and diffuse with his symbols and images. He is trying to force a situation which simply will not be forced, it has to happen on its own.
One feature that highly impressed me was the wireless, microphone system Young utilized. It allowed more freedom of movement onstage, and projected an infinitely more evenly distributed sound, although it was poorly mixed. The system must require substantially more wattage than the house P.A. could muster, but these $25,000 each systems mark a tremendous advancement in the technology-serving-mankind field.
The high point of the concert was the near-the-end performance of "Cinnamon Girl," but it was too little, too late, following such cheap theatrical gags as two Jawas banging a huge cardboard tuning fork on the stage whenever anyone's instrument went flat (Young's Les Paul had trouble with the first string - a perennial occupational hazard), and Young consulting some one in a lab smock late in the show, begging for an injection of help. "Let's have more Rock 'n' Roll"; Young is entirely too talented, albeit eccentric, to resort to cheap theatrical gimmickery.
For encore numbers he repeated performances of "My, My, Hey, Hey"' and "Tonight's the Night." The harder Neil Young tries to be a solo star. the harder he falls flat. "Contrived" popped up in my notes more often than any other adjective; "mock -almost
smug" ran a close, second. It was sad and painful to observe this truly great artist make an ass of himself. He is capable of a great deal more than he orchestrated last weekend.
Sure would like to know what reviewer John Messina, Jr. is up to these days? That's not exactly how we remember the evening. But hey. Like they say, sometimes you gotta watch out for the brown acid...
Which reminds us of something we posted on "Rust Never Sleeps" awhile ago.
Jim on the Rust Never Sleeps album jacket
"If you look on the inside of the dust jacket of the Rust Never Sleeps album, you can see me in a white shirt, in about the twelfth row, standing, clapping my hands, just to the right of Neil Young's hand and just above the cymbal in the bottom center of the photo."
Jim wrote us about attending his first Neil Young concert at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia on October 7, 1978 (Set List).
We're really struck by the fact that all these years later we discover that this RNS sleeve photo is from the William & Mary College tour stop. We never had any idea what venue the photo was from. And, yes, that's Thrasher, just outside of the right side of the frame.
More on the Rust Never Sleeps tour and album.