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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Agony & The Ecstasy: Neil Young in Concert

Not surprisingly and right on cue, as Neil Young's 2nd tour leg gets underway, out come the believers -- and doubters. The agony & the ecstasy.

Even Archives Guy was motivated to respond to the criticisms. And so it goes. Over and over, my love.

Which brings us to our latest Neil Young concert review of the moment on the Neil Young @ Oakland, CA , July 11, 12 & 14, 2010 by Mr Henry:
Wow...really loving these comments from Brian and Archives Guy. Kind of like the James Boswell and Samuel Johnson of rock and roll. Keep up the good work guys!

'Hey folks, this is what Neil Young does'...exactly. The man is his own person, and let the world be the world. Complain about this and that if you want to...but that's just creating a lot of noise and distortion (and not in a good way).

' an opera to Neil....'. Yes, that's what is going on, or maybe a song cycle. Why else would the set list be so consistent? And look at the flow: now and eternity; love and war; hope and despair. As I elaborated on in an earlier comment, more than anything Twisted Road reminds me of Laurie Anderson's tour and album for Strange Angels in the late 80's (Neil = Performance Artist Extraordinaire).

'...Neil's new sound and sonic tones are mind blowing'. That's the best part...I could just listen to him tuning up, improvising and playing random would still be incredible. Add in a set that's half classic songs and half new (and superb) songs and it's way, way beyond that.

Bottom Line: this tour is some totally unique and amazing shit, even for Neil. Instead of pining for the 'snows of yesteryear' and some fantasy performance of your personal favorites, take a deep breath, clear your mind and go ride the music.

One more thing. I keep seeing all these comments from 'fans' about how they somehow survived Neil's music during the 80's and (OMG!) even liked some of it. I've always loved his stuff from then as much as all his other music. To quickly synopsize, we had Hawks & Doves, Reactor, Trans, Old Ways, Landing on Water, Life, This Note's for You, and Freedom. I saw Neil four times during the 80's, twice with the Horse, and all of those shows were incredible. Oh, and also the epic Saturday Night Live when he first did RITFR. Then he came out of that decade with Ragged Glory and the Smell the Horse tour. Yeah, I'm glad that you all managed to make it through that...congratulations!

Anyway, it's late and the reviews should be coming in for the Davis show. Really looking forward to reading Brian's update on that show.

[In reply to Louis, who fails to see the theme in the setlist]

You really don't see a theme running through this?

"...getting a little old and a little lazy and his need for perfection has limited the songs he has at ready to play"?! "ex post rationalization"?! WTF...Neil is sounding even better, playing solo, small theaters, travelling North America in his bus, many great new songs, acoustic, electric, amplified, piano.... Wouldn't "old and a little lazy" mean bigger venues with a band playing a set of nothing but hits? Yeah, of course I'd be there also and would appreciate that as well...but that's not what he's doing right now. The sailor wants to be a farmer and the farmer wants to go to sea.

I've seen Neil a couple dozen times and (to me) there's never been lower than a B+ for any show. This tour (again, to me) is an A+. That doesn't mean it's perfect, but he is circling the area. Certain performers are like that--you can see them again and again, and every time is really good and many times are incredible. In my case, Muddy Waters, Sonic Youth, Miles Davis and Alejandro Escovedo are some examples of this (i.e. multiple shows and all were great). With other performers who I also love to listen to, some shows have been beyond belief and others really bad. But not with Neil.

Granted that I've only seen one show in the tour (Hanover Theatre) and am basing my opinions on this, along with many of the comments and reviews from other shows. I would, however, have happily seen more shows and would have been expecting to hear the same set list at those also, since that's what he is doing right now. I have seen Neil back-to-back during other tours; sometimes he played mostly the same set while other times they were completely different.

So of course I respect the opinions of all others, especially those who are true long time fans of Neil Young but who just don't really like this so much. Using the old "steaming pile of crap" cliche is a little bit much, but I'm sure I push some people's buttons with my style as well, so I'll even take that in the spirit of debate. My feeling is that Neil is in a kind of transition now and is climbing the mountain again, heading for another vantage point and providing some guide posts along the way. Again, just my opinion about what I like.

'True mind is watching mind'
Suzuki Roshi

Thanks Mr Henry! Great overview.

More on Neil Young @ Oakland, CA , July 11, 12 & 14, 2010 and Neil Young's "Twisted Road" Concert Tour Reviews.


At 7/17/2010 09:04:00 PM, Anonymous Mother Nature on the Run said...

Au contraire, what Neil needs is to come down from his mountain and eat a scotch egg and a shot of Jameson's whiskey at Hurley's in Portland...

At 7/18/2010 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Moe the Sleeze said...

In reply to the sarcastic comment about Neil's "Fans" "surviving" 80's material. You had a god comment there until you decided to JUDGE EVERYONE else for their tastes. Really, does people’s dislike for Neil’s 80 albums take away from your enjoyment? I guess to be a “Real Fan” you must love every sound Neil has ever made (including him tuning up) I guess that means you are a "Real fan", leaving the rest of us "so called" fans in the metaphorical dust. From that comment I can deduce that you feel that your acceptance of Neil’s 80's music makes you more of a fan- it doesn’t. For me personally, in 1981, I was one years old and in 1989 I was nine. At that time I was completely unaware of Neil but a few years later I bought a combo tape of After the Goldrush on one side and Harvest on the other side. Then I bought Everybody Knows and so on. When I bought Trans I was a little surprised and it took a while to get into. But let’s be honest here- by Neil creating, Everybody's rockin, do you think he thought every one of fans would just blindly follow him? I' sure he expected the puzzled fans- perhaps that is why he did it and to the chagrin of Geffen. I'm glad you are so open minded and were able to follow Neil through every step of the 80's without one look of puzzlement crossing your devoted face. The rest of us need to take a cue from you Henry. Yes, we've all survived Neil 80 material, and yes some of us loved it right away and some of us had to let it grow on us a bit, and there are still plenty of us who hate it and never listen to Trans, Everybody's Rock'n, Landing on Water, Old ways, Life, I suggest castration for those "fans" for the inability to love everything Neil does and make their tastes match Mr. Henrys. (OMG) The Nerve!

At 7/18/2010 01:15:00 PM, Anonymous Jonathan said...

Point - counterpoint. Ding-Ding. Nobody has a monopoly on being a Neil fan or on any particular era of his work. I own and really enjoy 'Old Ways' once in a while. But I've never picked up the other 80's albums, not because of my knowledge of the fact that they are electronic - the Geffen years - whatever label gets ascribed to them. I have simply chosen to focus on other eras of his career in the midst of enjoying and exploring other music that's out there. Yes there are other musicians besides Neil Young - duh.

Having said that, lighten up there Moe the Sleeze. We all love Neil.

At 7/18/2010 01:27:00 PM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Dear Moe:

Sorry that I have so grievously offended you. I never think or intend to imply that my tastes or opinions are any better or worse than those of others', haters, bystanders or whatever. I thought that I was simply defending a part of Neil's work which (I feel) gets dumped on just a bit too much. Thanks for reminding me about Everybody's Rocking...forgot to add that one (I was doing this from memory and it was at the end of a long day).

I do think that your comeback was a bit strident and gets kind of personal, reading in a lot more cynicism, criticism or whatever than I had ever intended. I'm a big fan, have been for a long time...but my appreciation of Neil is no more important than your appreciation of him, and I'm especially impressed with your story of how you came to be a fan. Sounds like we were both about the same age when this first started...for me, it was seeing Buffalo Springfield on TV and hearing them on the radio, for you it was After the Goldrush and Harvest.

So anyway, I didn't mean for this one personal opinion to be taken as gospel by anyone. In the world of art and music, there are no heretics. And it's all one song....

At 7/18/2010 01:34:00 PM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Thanks Jonathan...Roger that! I always enjoy your thoughtful and balanced replies and comments.

At 7/18/2010 03:26:00 PM, Anonymous Moe the Sleeze said...

Point taken Mr. Henry. So much is said about the man's 80's work- much of which I love but I can also understand why this period can also confound many.
Taste is taste and most can't really help what they like and dislike. Lord knows there is a lot of music I wish I liked, but for the life of me, I could never "get". What is important is that one keeps an open mind and really gives th music a chance, a song can not ask for much more than that.
As far as Neil goes, I firmly believe that were it not for his body of work from the 80's we would not be so in awe of the man as we are today. The 80's added to his mystique and cemented him as an artist of the highest caliber, one which follows his muse at the expense of money, fame, fans and record companies.
What makes a person a fan? A question one should ask themselves is if a person loves only one or two albums by an artist such as Neil, does that make him any less of a fan? Cobain only made four albums but I think he was really one of the greats. But, alas, as much as I think I may know, I don't know the answer to that one. For a fans like us, we'd get annoyed and find it hard to understand why others do not like all or most records.
As far as my response, I may have jumped the gun, been a bit too severe and assumed a few things, for that I apologise. I appreciate your reply. It's true, Neil is definitely a mystery and fans can squabble for years on songs, albums, tastes and opinions, but in the end we really all love the music.

At 7/18/2010 03:35:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Mr Henry - good stuff, man
@Moe - good points
@Jonathan - thanx, so there's other music?? ;)
@All - always nice to see civil dialogue on the InterWebz

At 7/19/2010 01:03:00 AM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Thanks to Moe for some really good comments and insights into the phenomenon that is Neil...I salute you! Totally hit the bulls eye with your point about how "the 80's added to his mystique and cemented him as an artist of the highest caliber...." I feel the same way and could not have expressed this any better than that. Thanks again!

As far as Kurt is concerned, I fully agree and am also a huge fan. Doesn't really matter how many albums generated, it's the quality and depth that makes music timeless. I was very fortunate to see Nirvana during their last tour and it's still vivid in my memory. Kurt's guitar playing during the instrumental ending was a mindblowing combination of Jimi Hendrix, Tom Verlaine and total originality like I've never heard before or since.

So who really knows what makes us respond to different things? As my wife said after reading this thread, "People really get worked up about Neil, don't they". This was just before she ran away with the guy from the Old Spice commercials, but I still appreciated her point (ha, ha). And as you state so well " the end we really all love the music". Take care....

At 7/19/2010 06:08:00 AM, Anonymous Louis said...


It's not so much that I don't see potential vague themes running through the set - of course there are consistent themes, one of the new songs is about how he always writes about love and war, for F's sake.

It's more that whatever vague themes you want to read into the set after the fact to justify his not changing it night to night (an "ex-post rationalization" - giving reasons to occurrences after they happen to make sense of an imperfect world), there are 20 other combinations of his songs that easily fit into your supposed themes of "now and eternity; love and war; hope and despair."(and probably do a much better job of capturing it that "leia"). I'd be happy to rattle off a few, but I know it isn't necessary (I would have taken a Philadelphia and a War of Man in a sec)

All I wanted to hear, was a couple different combos. None of the "themes" listed in this post require the exact same set list.

I still stand by my criticism.

Neil, when you play the Fox two nights in a row and charge $225 a pop, I want at least a slightly different set list each night. It is not an unreasonable expectation in the slightest.

At 7/19/2010 08:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another angle on Neil is that there is the "released" stuff, then there are the concerts of the same stuff. Many times, the recordings just do not do justice to what is absoultely scintilating when played live. Last night, I just happened to watch the recording of his May 18, 2002 concert with Pancho & the MG's at the Rock Am Ring Festival in Germany. Now, I am not the biggest fan of AYP, I think the recording suffers from a certain level of cheesiness, Goin Home is kind of a mess and the absence of Gateway of Love makes me think that Neil was hoarding for the Archives... Then, I watched him play at the May 18, 2002 concert... His versions of Are You Passionate, Differently and especially Goin' Home are out of this world; he's smoking on them, and the band is in a total groove. For me, it puts AYP in a totally different light. I wonder if other had the same experience with any concerts around the Landing on Water or Life eras?
Jim in DC

At 7/19/2010 09:34:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Louis: you said:
"Neil, when you play the Fox two nights in a row and charge $225 a pop, I want at least a slightly different set list each night. It is not an unreasonable expectation in the slightest. "


If you spend $1000 on Super Bowl seats and the game is crap, do you feel that the NFL has treated you unfairly and go on a rant?

Not to over elaborate, but a setlist is put together for a number of reasons -- themes, building up, bringing down, rhythm, timing, etc.

Once a setlist flow works, why mess with it? Neil's not a jukebox.

Most folks don't see multiple shows.

relax, chill, peace

At 7/19/2010 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...

Suffered through his 80's stuff? Suffered? I'm just discovering it now, and man... the guy was 25 years ahead of his time. I mean, c'mon, Landing on Water? Trans? Opera Star?? Transformer Man?? Old Ways!!!

Gee whiz, the stuff is phenomenal.

And just to stay on topic - Neil's still doin' what Neil does, which is whatever he FEELS. Sometimes people feel it with him, sometimes it takes them 20 years to feel it (such as with his 80's stuff, and FITR, which will be a revered classic in 2029 (trust me, I've been there)).

It's all about the feeling man. I'm just feeling his 80's output, so... y'know, sometimes it takes awhile...

At 7/19/2010 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Tweck9 said...


It's all in the little nuances - he may play the same set-list (and it's all the same song anyway, so whatever), but you get subtle variations in the strums and beats and yowls, and speed, and stuff like that. So, as much as it is the same, it is a totally different experience.

It's all the same set... but each performance is it's own living, breathing thing, man. You can be like, "Ooooh, much better version of ______ tonight," or, "He really got the groove on ________ tonight," or "Last night's version of _______ seemed a little more cohesive, but tonight's has more emotive resonance..."


And most bands play the same set list every night of a tour anyway. So I dunno, man, it's not like he's doing anything different than other people do.

At 7/19/2010 05:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you guys tell me about what time neil hit the stage where you saw him, the winnipeg show starts at 8, just wondering what time he actually hit the stage!


At 7/19/2010 08:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

woolfie...that depends on how stoned and pissed he gets..although I haven't actually seen him "hit the stage" in concert! lol

At 7/19/2010 08:17:00 PM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Woolfie, the show will almost definitely start right at 8 p.m. (local time of course), with Bert Jansch playing for about 45 minutes or so. Do not miss Bert...he's a legend and an incredible performer.

There will be a break of 20 minutes or so, then Neil should come on sometime shortly after 9 p.m. Sets are running 100 minutes or so, but given that your show will be in Winnepeg, who knows? It should be an incredible show; hope that you enjoy yourself and have fun welcoming Neil back home!!!

At 7/20/2010 01:59:00 AM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Just back home from seeing Alejandro Escovedo in Cambridge...what an amazing God
Damn performance!!! I've seen the man at least a dozen times or more over the past couple decades and he just keeps getting better. Probably around 300 people at the show (Middle East Downstairs) and everyone was totally blown away.

Every single song was incredible and the highlights for me were many. Dedicated "Sister Lost Soul" to his long time friend Stephen Bruton with much, much love, which then melted into Fort Worth Blue (instrumental from his new album Street Songs of Love) which then turned into Five Hearts Breaking (which is my favorite and probbly the best song that Al has ever written).

Amazing performance of Down in the Bowery with an intro/dedication to his 18 year old son Paris ("I want him to be a punk and live his life the way he wants to...."). Second encore was All The Young Dudes and it was phenomenal!!! Only cover that he did during the show (I was crossing my fingers for Sway, but still totally happy with the set) but that was okay too...this was obviously a show to highlight his own songs.

Sorry to stray here, but everyone needs to see Al once (or even more often) in their lifetime...he is that unique, amazing and wonderful.

At 7/20/2010 11:10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Henry:

I am also a HUGE fan of Alejandro -- he is very much in the Neil-like pantheon... His Gravity album should have been in the top ten of the 90's, his Man under the Influence is a classic and his live performances are awe-inspiring. I caught him with his full band (including the incomparable Susan Voelz) at the 9:30 club about a year and half ago and was completely blown away. Anyway, he would be the perfect opener for Neil and the Horse... (trying to keep this in the context of a thrasher's Wheat posting). Can't wait to see Alejandro as soon as he passes through here again.

At 7/21/2010 06:07:00 PM, Anonymous Mr Henry said...

Thanks for the nice posting. I agree that Alejandro is cut from the same cloth as Neil. In fact, I remember reading years ago that his objective with the Orchestra was a combination of Crazy Horse and The Kronos Quartet! He would make a superb opener for any of Neil's shows, and I'm sure he'd be most happy to do so...who knows?! BTW, I do try to limit my topics outside of Neil to music and art that is somehow related, so I feel okay with this one.

Gravity was indeed an incredible album; also Thirteen Years, the one right after. Great songs and performances, great musicians including Stephen Bruton. His performances during that period (full orchestra, small orchestra, Buick McKane, solo) were all incredible, and continue to be so. And Susan Voelz is indeed incomparable as you say...hope that she's back playing with him again at some point in the future.

"Once in awhile, honey
Let your love show.
Once in awhile, honey
Let your love grow."
--Alejandro Escovedo
Always a Friend to You


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