Review of the Moment: Tribute to Neil Young at Carnegie Hall (w/ YouTubes)
The concert review of the moment is from Tribute to Neil Young at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 2/10/11 by the always engaging Mr. Henry:
All One Song
I'll give you more Love
And more Joy
Than age or time
Could ever destroy
A few years back, I had the pleasure and privilege of hearing the Dali Lama speak in Boston. He was in town for a few days and seemed to be everywhere, meeting with researchers at Harvard, speaking with the faithful and exiled Tibetans, and culminating his visit with a talk on compassion at the new Garden. When we walked in, there must have been 10,000 people there...the balcony was kept empty to maintain some level of directness and intimacy, but every other seat was taken.
His talk was a combination of humor, insight, compassion and a full understanding of the human condition. Everyone was completely still and focused during the talk, and it was the most respectful and attentive audience that I'd ever been a part of. Thursday night at the Neil Young tribute, Patti Smith's performance of Only A Dream came in a close second.
Smiling and calm, totally in the moment she took the stage on the November 10th anniversary of both her first album Horses (1975) and the death of Arthur Rimbaud (1891). Telling the crowd that 'I closed my eyes backstage and I could feel Neil's presence', it looked like there was no place else she'd rather be right then. With her daughter Jesse playing beautiful piano to accompany her mom, she took Neil's song and paid full tribute to him, and at the same time made it her own personal statement. Through all the sadness and the madness, Patti continues to be a steadfast beacon of hope.
Some moments were simply sublime, like when her voice rose and slightly broke with emotion when she began the last chorus of 'It's a dream, it's only a dream....'. Also when she got a bit lost in the song and forgot some lyrics during the 'sun's climbing the roof' verse, then just waited and smiled while Jesse came back around to the first bar, at which point she started the verse again and nailed it perfectly, just like Neil would have done, saying that hey, this too is part of the performance. And the utter pleasure she was taking in the lyrics was mesmerizing, especially when she got to the line 'and stopped with a policeman to chat' and had a look that said 'Isn't that about the most charming thing that you've ever heard?'.
So yeah, I had an incredible time and it sure seemed like everyone else was feeling the same. Carnegie Hall is still such a wonder after all these years, the performances were all heartfelt and ranged from very good to just-glad-that-I'm-here wonderful. First we had a very nice version of Out on the Weekend by Joe Purdy to start things off. When he finished, I turned to the man on my right and said 'Wonder how they chose who'd go first?' since it can be both a blessing and a curse to open a show like this.
Next up was Joan Osborne doing Old Man which she dedicated 'to my father'. I loved her version, which didn't stray too far from the original yet still became her own statement. When Joan got to the line 'rolling home to you', you could feel her emotions as her voice broke slightly. Thanks so much Joan for this performance and also for the songs you did at the afterparty. Wherever you dad is, I'm sure he could feel your love and that you made him very proud then and always.
Bettye LaVette came on next and did her one-of-a-kind version of Heart of Gold. I've read a number of comments to the effect that 'there was too much emphasis on the 70's singer/songwriter period' but that's the nature of tributes, Bettye had much past history with this song and her performance was great. If you could combine Mavis Staples with Sarah Vaughn, you'd come up with something close to her unique artistry. When she held a long note on '...and I'm growing old' it gave me shivers. And then came J. Mascis.
Now I know that J., Dinosaur Jr. or any of his bands aren't exactly everyone's cup of tea, and I'm guessing that a lot of people there were saying 'who's that?' but as soon as he and his band walked out, dressed in jeans and T shirts like it was just another jam night at The Iron Horse or some other local spot in the Northampton area, I knew this would be something special. Saying 'fasten your seat belt' to the woman on my left, I figured he'd do Cortez and I was right. He played it in his 'classic rock' mode and there were no major freakouts or anything like that, just a lot of great guitar playing in one of the greatest guitar songs ever written. I've seen J. perform three times during the past six months and each time in a different setting (drumming with Lard Zeppelin, sitting in with Black Mountain for the best song of their show, and then at Carnegie Hall to pay tribute to Neil); each time was memorable and immensely enjoyable. Thanks to J. and his great band for a very special moment.
Next up was Ben Ottewell doing a warm and earthy version of Unknown Legend and calming everyone down a bit after Cortez. Very nice job on this one and then The Wood Brothers came on to do Sugar Mountain. Didn't realize until later that Chris Wood is the guy from Medeski Martin & Wood until later and I sure wouldn't have guessed this from their set. They're like a combination of The Avett Brothers and The Louvin Brothers, a comparison that I'm sure they would like to hear...great job guys!
The next introduction was for 'Shawn Colvin and The House Band', after which Shawn and Larry Campbell came out and did a transcendent version of Birds, with Shawn on acoustic guitar and Larry playing a beautiful mandolin. I had not seen Shawn in a number of years and she always gives 100% to every song, whether it's hers or someone else's.
From that point, the hits and great performances just kept coming. Devotchka doing Only Love Can Break Your Heart with guitar, accordion and some really great harmonies. Very enjoyable and a unique take on a song I've heard done by Neil and many others. Mason Jennings performing Red Sun after saying first how thankful he was that the New York temperature is 30 degrees higher than back home in Colorado. Acoustic guitar with a beautiful electric guitar performance in support, especially during the bridge instrumental where it absolutely shimmered.
Nada Surf was in the spirit of the night, with not one but two black Gibson guitars doing Barstool Blues. First time I've seen this band, after meaning to for quite a long time and I hope to see them again soon. Lead singer reminds me quite a bit of Alex Chilton and that's always a good thing.
Bebel Gilberto (daughter of Bossa Nova legend Joao) and her band performed next and they did a superb Harvest Moon. The couple to my left were holding hands and totally immersed in the song, as I'm sure many others were. So glad that I could hear them for the first time and hope to hear Bebel, her band and their highly original music again very soon.
Cowboy Junkies came on next and did an intense version of Don't Let It Bring You Down. Their version made me think of the groundbreaking take they had on Sweet Jane, as it built in a slow and inevitable way. Like a smoldering fire coming to life, sparks were truly flying.
Keller Williams did a unique take on Comes A Time, with a mixture of folk/jazz acoustic guitar and innovative vocals. Reminded me a lot of the late, great Kenny Rankin. Glen Hansard followed with Tell Me Why and this also was a unique, individual version for one of Neil's most iconic numbers.
Julianna Hatfield and Evan Dando were introduced next and came out for Cinnamon Girl. Their vocals and harmonies together are always wonderful and they were both on electric guitars, doubling the total guitars playing. Jules and Evan have played together and separately for a long time, and it was starting to feel kind of like a great show from back in the late 80's at TT's or The Middle East. Great job and the perfect song choice for these two favorites.
Just when it seemed that things couldn't get any better, Aaron Neville is introduced and comes out for Helpless. Beautiful gospel inspired version and Aaron looks like he hasn't aged in twenty years.
Then Jacob Dylan doing Southern Man, with a full guitar army and four part harmonies for the chorus. Not only does Jake look like his dad, but his voice is getting there too as he gets older: when he got to the line 'Lily Belle your hair is golden brown', he sounded very much like Bob from the Planet Waves period, when he was around the same age. Great version there, Jake, and I'm sure you made both Neil and your dad proud.
Pete Yorn came out next to do an acoustic Rockin' In The Free World. He said this was the first song he'd ever performed in public and it was for a high school talent show in Montclair, NJ. So how could he have done any other song? Nice version too, slow building and intense...for a minute I thought the song was morphing into The Stooges song Gimme Danger (I'm sure that somewhere there's a great medley of these two classics).
The Roots - "Down By The River"
The Roots came out to huge applause and did an incendiary version of Down By The River, starting off like Dark Side of the Moon and ending with references to Hey Joe. The extended instrumental jam and guitar was especially great and sounded like The Allman Brothers jamming with Eddie Hazel in Sonny Sharrock's basement. The crowd loved it and roared it's approval. Patti's performance of Only A Dream was next and now I'm back where I started out...it was amazing, moving and completely unique.
To wrap things up, Larry Campbell and the band members came out for a song and did a beautiful version of Ohio. Someone from the audience requested Revolution Blues and Larry smiled broadly at that -- he was having a great time! By the way, I've seen a lot of people cover Neil's songs and one of the absolute best was Jon Langford and Skull Orchard doing Revolution Blues for a couple hundred people (and then after the show, I got to talk a bit with Jon and have a beer with him).
Ohio was great and toward the end, all the performers started coming out on stage for the big finale. As Ohio flowed into Out of the Blue, everyone was rocking out and Patti Smith was dancing and urging the crowd to do the same. And then it was over.
Thanks so very much to Michael Dorf for putting on such a great show. Also thanks to Megan for getting me such a great seat for this once-in-a-lifetime show (front row almost center). Thanks to all of the great performers for such enjoyment. Thanks to the folks at Carnegie Hall for providing one of the best music venues in the world. And most of all, thanks to Neil for all of this great music.
'I worked my whole life -- I don't apologize. I take care of my family...and I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots. I don't apologize, that's my life.'
--Marlon Brando during his next-to-last scene in The Godfather
'We'll get there, Pop...we'll get there'.
--Al Pacino in response
Thanks -- as always Mr. Henry! An exceptionally nice & worthy of a review of the moment. Thanks for sharing such a vivid memory of the night. really wish we could have been there.
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