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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

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.


At 10/08/2009 08:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello...does any one have ticket stubs from this or ANY "Rust Never Sleeps" tour dates that says "Rust Never Sleeps" on them...I would love to buy one if you do...thanks...Jeffry

At 10/08/2009 09:01:00 AM, Anonymous SONY said...

I was at the show before this one, 10/5/78 - Rochester NY. My FIRST Neil concert. When we got there I didn't know what the F to think of the stage setup and all. When he 'woke up' playing Sugar Mountain I nearly died. The Jawa's and the Dr, and the mic and tuning fork were just wild. I don't remember them being cardboard as this review suggests as they slammed the fork into the stage floor for some tune ups. Probably put one over on me until now. We had to do some 're-rolls' in the car on the way. What did I know about the seeds anyway? The venue was pretty much 'fogged' out all night. And I had some Binnaca Blast breath spray for the lighter. Torched it up real bright, and even smelled good. That was a great night. Thanks for the reminder!

At 10/08/2009 09:39:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Okay, let's see... First he's upset with Neil Young's new hair-cut. That says a lot about this guy right there.

Then he is dismayed that Neil is "unusually quiet and business-like", during the acoustic numbers, which tells me he's never seen Neil Young play an acoustic set before.

"The audience should have done likewise at that point." Sounds as smug and condescending as that guy Rob at the Village Voice, who is also a clueless idiot.

"Frank SanPedro" Need I go on?

"Young totally botched the double-lead runs" - apparently this guy is also a very knowledgeable musician.

"attempted Hendrixian lead riffs"

"a stuffed shirt with no soul"

"See how loud I can be with all these Hendrixian motifs."

How much more insulting can this guy get? I hope he's become a bit more open-minded and knowledgeable by now.

At 10/08/2009 10:24:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So all you critics sit alone
You're no better than me
for what you've shown."

Forgive me for this vindictive streak but I've always wished there was a venue to publically call out journalists ... with the power of the pen they can spew garbage at will and trash anyone they chose right or wrong ... truth me dambed ... this is such a perfect example ... this guy trashed Neil in 10 different ways, tried to discredit Neil's solo ambitions and its ironic of all tours to do so during the 'Rust' tour which was totally classic ... these critics often think the key to being a sophisticated critic is to find faults ... In retrospect the review is shamefully stupid ... I wish there was a way to publically hold this critic to account the way he tried to do so to Neil ...

Sorry folks for the negativity, just a pet peeve of mine how the press gets a free pass to trash people and this is a sterling example the garbage these critics churn out.

At 10/08/2009 10:30:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Here's another sterling example, anon. Did anyone happen to read this vomitous spew of ignorant assinineness by Rob Harvilla?

He got a thorough thrashing in the comments section, at least.

At 10/08/2009 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

My personal rule of thumb for music critics...once you make a factual error, your review goes into the trash where it belongs!

Steve in Ottawa

At 10/08/2009 12:34:00 PM, Anonymous set list thief said...

According to Sugar Mountain, Young's electric set ran 13 songs. How Neil got through them in 20 minutes, I'll never know!

I remember reading Newsweek's stellar review of the RNS tour and comparing it to Dylan's, who was also touring at the time. Newsweek pretty much trashed Dylan's show. A couple weeks later I read that Neil was mortified that he'd been compared to his hero Bob Dylan in that way.

Which I guess just goes to show that Neil really doesn't put much stock into his reviews, good or bad.

I never was able to see any shows from this tour, but I've listened to many ROIOs from it. The performance on 10/23 at the Forum is particularly jaw-dropping. The 1-2-3 punch of "Cortez," "Cinnamon Girl," and "Hurricane" that night knocks me out every time I listen to it. At that moment Neil Young was the best guitar player on the planet.

At 10/08/2009 01:47:00 PM, Anonymous Lyne said...

I just got my Sept. 23, 1978 ticket stub out from The Spectrum in Philly. It says only "Neil Young".
Great show, great impression, great man.
I too would like to know what ever happened to the reviewer.

At 10/08/2009 08:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had already been a hopelessly obsessive fan for nine years prior to the 'R.N.S.' shows which were my first of over 30+ to date.The thing that stands out to me about the shows was being second in line at the venue (yes, the days when it was first come, first serve for tickets!)when after camping out the night before in the parking lot of the 'Pine Knob music Theater'outside of Detroit, I met another obvious die-hard Neil fan who was wearing a 'Tonights The Night' T-shirt which I was so envious of. After striking up a friendship after talking all things Neil for several hours, we eventually parted ways with tickets for both shows (two nights-sold out!)in hand,exclaiming "maybe I'll see ya at the show!".Well, several weeks had past when on the night of the first show finally arrived and we were making our way towards the gate when I thought I heard my name called out and sure enough, that fellow was waiting at the gate for me with a brand new 'Tonights The Night' T-shirt for me. To this day it still blows me away to think about it! This was the 'analog' version of mutual artist appreciation in ancient times prior to the digital age of blogs,e-mails,cell phones,c.d.'s,and the dawn of 'Ticket Master' was just over the horizon and by the way, as I said,I have since seen over 30 of Neil's concerts in every phase of his career and the R.N.S's shows were by far the epitomy of what the perfect Neil concert would be if you were taking someone whom your intent was to convert .. It had it all and he has not since then been able to capture anything remotely close to the same intensity with as much creativity, both visually and and in sheer thunderous volume .. as he himself even said "when they leave my show,I want it to be the loudest thing they ever heard"! and he was able to achieve that, prompting several post-tour lawsuits for hearing loss.Although loudness in itself doesn't make a concert great, the melodic thunder of Crazy Horse certainly left an impression that sustained ringing ears right up until I got my copy of 'Live Rust' assuring me that the 'roadeyes' and 'coneheads'were for real and not just some sort twisted dream consisting of some hybrid of 'Star Wars' and Sat.Night Live' No folks, it was all real+ and I know you can't go back, but to those of you, especially recent converts, who rate the current 'never ending tour Neil' amongst the greatest performers ever, at least pick up a D.V.D. of R.N.S's and get lost in a performance of an artist who even then was making a statement towards his contemporaries that he refused to rest on his laurals ..well, even in his 'resting mode' he's still light years ahead of those 'contemporaries'!

At 10/09/2009 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Unfortunately I was 6 years old when Rust Never Sleeps came out. It must have been incredible seeing those shows.

I have seen the RNS video like 5 times, it's beautiful, a masterwork, from Sugar Mountain all the way to the INCREDIBLE electric performance of Tonight the Night as the second encore.

Absolutely beautiful.

I've only seen Neil once - on the Greendale tour - and I was blown away then. Literally, my brain exploded out my nose, it was a mess.

But I digress. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to see Neil at that stage in his career. He was soooo sharp, and the band was totally with it, near perfect.

As a contrast, I recently watched the Live in Berlin video from 1983. Now, I think this video is awesome, as I love the Trans stuff, and I think the performances are pretty great.

A lot of people seem to think it's sub-par, and his biographer wrote about how crazy the tour was, and unreliable the musicians were, how everyone was drunk, etc. etc. and Bruce Palmer kept screwing up his parts...

... but I don't know. Maybe it's relative, because they seemed to be having a great time at this show, and seemed pretty damn tight, together and rockin'.

I don't think it has the same intensity as the RNS video (Neil seems a little rusty on the older material at LIB'83), but it's really great fun to see Nils and Neil dancing around to Transformer Man, and RIPPING through Sample & Hold....

Wooo, goosebumps!!!!

At 10/09/2009 02:12:00 PM, Blogger jakeb12007 said...

The RNS Shows were awsume as I was able to see 3 of them. Prior I had seen him during the Time Fades Away tour in Kansas City at the old Memorial Hall. Neil is always several steps ahead of the reviewers anyway and this reviewer obviously was a moron.I still have my stubs of all the shows(39 in all) and I wouldn't part with any of them!

At 10/09/2009 03:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I can only imagine what it would have felt like to see Neil at that stage in his career. He was soooo sharp, and the band was totally with it, near perfect."

In the 3 decades I've been seeing Neil he has never failed to blow me away ... I have to respectfully disagree with Matthew's implication that Neil was once near perfect and since he's become more 'mortal' (or less perfect) ... I agree that some songs he sang then were more relevant to him then but that has never changed with Neil ... his Ambulance Blues circa 2007 were mindblowing ... the Cowgirl I saw at MSG in fall of '08 was up there with any I've heard on tape post Danny Whitten ... Do I regret that I missed those 70s tours? You bet! But I remember seeing him at the Catalyst I think 5/19/97 and it was one of the best shows I've ever heard live or on tape ... late 80s with Blue Notes was classic, and same goes for the '07 theatre tour -- totally classic, mind blowing stuff! I think he gets finer with age, his stage presence gets better and better, his voice is excellent and his canon of songs gets wider and wider ... I don't think I'd trade some of these 'recent' shows even for RNS shows but that's not to take anything away from them, like most things Neil they're as good as it gets.

At 10/10/2009 08:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well what does one expect; a leading 'Educated' intellectual doing a review-how the hellena mt. could he be wrong? Well he was, and so will all of these folks running this country into the ground be proved the same. Maybe after I die as I am old-fear not, these people telling you they have an answer: well, they are about as correct as this reviewer. Beware of the brown acid as you put that in your pipe and smoke it!

At 10/11/2009 06:49:00 AM, Anonymous Brynjar said...

Heh heh-what a load of bullshit. The following quote is from the Harvest Moon-era, when everybody suddently was hailing Young as the king of rock and all, after a decade of notoriously bad reviews for what I condsider to be some really good albums and tours.

So leave it to Neil to give us the ultimate truth about how to deal with music writers and their reviews:

"Fuck reviews. Reviews doesn't really matter. You can't believe 'em when they fuckin' praise you, and you can't believe 'em when they criticize you. Because if you believe them now, that means I should've believed them the other times-and we know that they're wrong ALL the fuckin' time."

At 10/11/2009 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Hey Anon - you're probably right. My perspective is limited - I am basing my opinion mostly on just watching the RNS video, and what I've heard and clips I've seen.

People often say that NY & Crazy Horse can be extremely imperfect, a fun, beautiful, musically transcendent mess.

But on the RNS video, nary a mistake is made. They are right on top of every note, every beat.

Though I'm sure they've had many, many, really tight and near-perfect performances throughout the years, so I'm sure you're right.

And that the general idea of Crazy Horse as a really messy band is probably not as true as people make it out to be. So yeah. I shouldn't imply that he hasn't been that sharp since, though I'm pretty certain he is not always that sharp.

At 10/11/2009 03:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this review - it's refreshing when someone writes what's on their mind, what they feel, rather than just falling in line with the status quo.

Hey, it's what the reviewer felt, and he had a right to express his opinion.

Speaking of opinions, they are like assholes - everybody has one - even Saint Thrasher.

- anon

At 10/11/2009 08:57:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

I am not surprised by this review because I honestly can't remember reading anything good about Neil Young unless of course it was in the Rolling Stone or a Canadian concert review in the early 70s.

For anyone who can remember clearly back then, the critics loved to hate this guy for everything ranging from leaving the Buffalo, CSN, Crazy Horse to his voice and his guitar playing.

Only since his re-emergence brought to you by SNL & grandfather grunge love affair have I seen a renewed interest, curiosity, and icon worship for this incredible life and times of Neil Young.

At 10/11/2009 10:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes we live in a world of "free speech" thank G-d for that and any reviewer can spew any garbage they wish but lets call this guy out -- he was clueless and the review was total rubbish ... just because we live in a world where you can legally say what you want doesn't mean you should pollute the world with comments and reviews that lack original thought or even good sense ... that was always the gripe about the 4%ers ... thoughtful criticism is justified, thoughtless comments and negativity aren't ... I give people credit for going against the grain and saying whats on their mind but a careful read of this reviewer shows you he was completely clueless ....

At 10/12/2009 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

There are reviewers who express good reasons to be critical of Neil, in an intelligent, thoughtful manner, and I may find myself in disagreement, but would never say their opinion is unjustified or necessarily wrong.

Then there are reviewers like this guy and Rob Harvilla. Egotistical, stuck up snobs who have nothing better to do than try to elevate their own sense of smug self-satisfaction by bashing a celebrity, particularly one who it is in vogue for the conformist-types to bash. The same reviewers generally are haphazard with their research, have no concept of art, and are not journalists in any sense of the word.

So yeah, there are two types of negative reviews. Unfortunately, as we see here, even back in the 70's these idiots were out there making fools of themselves.

At 10/12/2009 06:41:00 PM, Anonymous Thos said...

Wonder if this is the same John Messina who got into trouble regarding some John Lennon footage?

At 1/05/2010 08:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those who wanted to know what became of the reviewer, I can tell you from personal knowledge.

First, he wasn't a "staff writer" at the Flat Hat. He wasn't a journalist. He wasn't even a student at W&M. He was the Arts Editor's boyfriend from a college elsewhere in Virginia. He got free tickets to Neil's concert from her and that's how he was able to write that review and get it published.

When last seen, years later, he was the hen-pecked husband of the same editor, and was looking for work because she wasn't satisfied with his job as a surveyor.

At 2/11/2024 03:28:00 PM, Blogger ethiessen1 said...

I was at that concert. Apparently the reviewer wasn't.


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