Expecting to See Neil Young (or Man Without A Net)
Photo by Tracy Woodward/TWP
It's so hard to make arrangements for yourself when you're expecting to see Neil Young.
About half way through the concert in Washington last night, a scene from the documentary film "Man On A Wire" flickered by in our head.
"Man On A Wire" is a documentary film of a trapeze artist who walks a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City in 1974. And somehow that image reminded us of Neil Young up there.
Up on the stage. Alone. Without a net. Trying to stay balanced. Sometimes leaning left, sometimes to the right. A tension of whether he might slip. And fall.
We've now seen both the Worcester and Washington concerts and wanted to share some thoughts. You've seen the setlists already:
- 7 new songs
- 3 or 4 classics re-interpreted solo electric like Down by the River, Cortez the Killer, Cinnamon Girl
- 1 unreleased and monumental "Hitchhiker"
- 8 or so different instruments including 3 pianos
- 1 Ol' Black
(btw, numbers add up to nothing)
Some scattered thoughts.
Acoustic feedback and electric solo. Neil version 64.00 re-inventing himself yet again.
Excellent sound at both Hanover Theater and Constitution Hall. And really loud, too.
In Worcester, Neil was much more talkative. He mentioned how the song Leia came about (some think this may be the "Leia"?), his new hat, listening to Bert Jancsh in Toronto, and a couple other odds and ends. He barely said a word in Washington.
Very nice stage setup with wooden indian, large lamps, pianos, cool colored backdrop. Warm lighting with lots of blues.
Good audiences each night. Very little shouted song requests and it would seem a high degree of audience respect, particularly Worcester.
Cortez the Killer was quite spectacularly sublime in Washington more so than Worcester. Neil seemed to really deliberately draw out almost every note making it seem more dirge like than raucous.
An incredible bass vibration is set off during several songs, particularly the new "Rumblin'" -- which literally causes the building to shake and vibrate. A very other- worldy effect.
The setlist with the new songs is quite remarkable. The tribute song to LA Johnson (1947-2010) "You Never Call" with a mention of Ben is quite heartbreaking when you know the story and context. Obviously, many in the audiences don't know the back story as they chortle and guffaw at lines about back pain, burgers and fries and Red Wing hockey games.
Seriously. Can you imagine how hard it must be to sing a song about a dear friend -- who you have known and worked with nearly your entire professional life -- suddenly dies taking your son to a hockey game?
"You Never Call" really encapsulates the mood and tone of the concerts. The ghost of L.A. fills the room and seems to hover over the stage. There is a foreboding tension in both the air and the audience. While this was not exactly a comparable situation to the Tonight's The Night or Time Fades Away tours when there was considerable bewilderment on the part of audiences, there are some comparisons with the Twisted Road tour.
7 new songs is expecting a lot of your audience. When the lights went up, there were many looks of almost puzzlement. The audience had been challenged and maybe left uncomfortable.
We've often argued that a Neil Young concert is almost like being part of performance artist workshop. As if almost anything could happen.
Over the course of the two concerts, we spoke to a lot of folks before and after and heard quite a range of opinions and expectations. Could probably say a lot about that but will pick up another comment about how your expectations going in often set your experience.
And so it would seem that this tour announced as "solo" turns out to have loud Ol' Black electric feedback?! God forbid.
Following Neil's career is about not setting expectations. It's about expecting the unconventional. When we read comments like this, this and this, we seriously wonder how a "fan" could be puzzled, bewildered or disappointed by a concert. The fact is that's a chance and a risk you take when you're a fan. If you can't handle it, then maybe you don't belong in the room and this is not for you?
The t-shirts in the lobby had the words: "I said solo. They said acoustic." Seldom has a concert t-shirt more succinctly expressed a concert sentiment.
Oh, did we mention he played *7* new songs? And Love and War is really fantastic.
But I'll still try to sing about love and war
And the setlist indeed had many songs of love and war. From Heart of Gold to Ohio. From I Believe in You to Cortez the Killer.
So back to Man On A Wire Playing Without A Net.
I'm really not sure if folks realize just how dangerous this is for Neil and what he has been through with the loss of LA.
And so it was with a man on a wire between the two twin towers. One side acoustic. The other electric.
Which way to go?
It was a nearly perfect balancing act between love and war. Electric and acoustic. Hey Hey My My. My My Hey Hey. Into the blue. Out of the black.
As esteemed Rustie Mark Golley reported in Uncut Magazine:
"Black & white, light & dark, life & death... He's counting down to the end in a stark, desperately revealing way.Almost surreal,the shows are heavy, draining, dense, intense and challenging. He's reinventing his own set of wheels. Again...
"Like no shows I've ever seen from Neil...."
It was a night where some in the audience thought it was too loud or not loud enough. Some thought too many new songs, others too few classics. Some came for the folky singer-songwriter, some for the hippie grunge rocker loner. Some wanted to sit and politely, clap & nod while others wanted to stand up and dance & rock out.
And you know what? They were all right. They all got some of what they were expecting. But didn't get everything they wanted. Kinda like life itself. Funny.
Sometimes changing your mind is so hard to do.
Oh yeah, and did we mention that there were seven (7) new songs debuted?
Photo by Tracy Woodward/TWP
For more, Neil Young Concert Reviews of Washington, DC, May 24, 2010. Also, see more Neil Young's "Twisted Road" Concert Tour Reviews.
UPDATE: More reaction to this post @Does The Twisted Road Tour Compare With TTN or TFA Tours?