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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Comment of the Moment: Neil Young @ Farm Aid 2013

"Somebody's got to tell the truth."
Neil Young @ Farm Aid 2013

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The Comment of the Moment is from Farm Aid 2013 in Saratoga Springs, New York by Mr Henry, who said...
First of all, can we maybe retire the phrase "campfire music" when making comments and comparisons about music. It's become meaningless and a bit trite through overuse; what Mr. Harvey used to call "a hamburger word" back in HS English class. And I guarantee that what Neil Young played Saturday night was in no possible way, shape or form anything that you can objectively call "campfire music", at least not when he plays it.

Neil's entire set at this year's Farm Aid was all a covers set. That's right--everything he played was a cover. Think about it: what are the two Neil Young songs that everyone knows, (most) everyone loves, everyone plays a version of. My God, Heart of Gold just might be the single most covered song in the past twenty or thirty years, and maybe in the history of music (at least if you exclude Beatles songs). How many times have you been somewhere--the grocery store or any other store, the post office, the dentist office--and heard those familiar chords? It's in our collective cultural DNA.

And Neil played both songs exactly like you hear them in your head. There was virtually no change in either version, they were right in the middle of his set, and it was the only time on stage when he wasn't challenging or confronting his audience and fans. Does anyone out there think that was just a coincidence? That it was really "...I don't know what I'm gonna do next" that made him suddenly decide to do those two songs, and only those two songs? Especially after John Mellencamp's intro..and then hear Neil's intro for Willie. He's saying it's not just about me, it's about all of us, it's about the music that we made and will continue to make.

The songs he chose to do were all connected; the fun is trying to figure out just how. Hardin and Ochs; Ivory Joe and Sonny James; Gordon Lightfoot. I absolutely loved his version of Early Morning Rain; we were mesmerized watching it. Why did he choose to start his set with this song?

The entire day at Farm Aid had an underlying theme celebrating the music that came before and that still is 100% today and tomorrow. Amos Lee did an incredible version of A Change Is Gonna Come; fifty years later this song just continues to grow and grow. Willie did more covers than I can ever remember, and not just the ones that are part of his regular set. Texas Flood was a wonder to behold, and a wonder to watch. Lukas honoring his dad and Stevie Ray, while looking at times like a young Kris Kristofferson. And the circle is truly unbroken. Good Hearted Woman plays, and it looks like Willie might still see a bit of Waylon right up there with him.

Carlene's performance of Troublesome Waters so gently epic. Every Carter and Cash family member tells their own story through this song, and also the story for each one of us. Glad to see you looking so great and sounding so wonderful, Sweety! Just keep staying Stronger, avoid the "special diet" and Keep On The Sunny Side whenever times get rough.

If Poncho's hand was okay, then Neil's performance would have been something else. For my money, he figured out something that was new and different, then just went for it. Even the audience was really into it, and was calling out their own requests for Neil to cover...the one who yelled out "Come on, let's go" must be a major Richie Valens fan :)
Thanks -- as always -- Mr Henry!

Yes, four unperformed cover songs by some of the folk legends of the past with Phil Ochs and Kurt Cobain's ghosts hovering. What a night to remember.


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At 9/24/2013 09:01:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Thanks a bunch! Of course, I completely forgot to mention Dylan. Neil's opening with Blowing In The Wind was perfect; after the performance of This Land Is Your Land with Pete, Dave, Willie and John, what else could he choose for his opening song?

Sorry to overlook that, and apologies to Bob for the oversight. Wrote the Comment in one quick take and immediately posted; otherwise would have picked up on that. Guess that Early Morning Rain was so impressive it just stuck in my mind. Also on the re-watch Sunday morning, I picked up there for Neil's set...but I did see it live the night before, which is always the best.

And speaking of that, it's amazing how you can get the "feels like I'm there" experience sometimes when you are watching a live feed and are really immersed in the music. First time this happened for me was watching Peter Gabriel's closing set back at Woodstock '94. It was live On Demand, and I remember thinking this is a whole new way to hear live music, and eventually you'd be doing this for almost anything you like to see and hear.

So a great job on Blowing In The Wind, the single most powerful and memorable song from the Sixties. Still as immediate today as it was 50 years ago, which I'm sure was the message that Neil intended.

At 9/24/2013 11:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention that "Blowin' in the Wind" has probably been covered a few more times than "Heart of Gold".

For my money, I go to a ton of "open mikes" and for whatever reason I hear people doing "Don't Let it Bring You Down" more than any other Neil song. I don't know why, I can't even come up with a hypothesis as to why, just a weird observation.

Great covers set by Neil though. MUCH better than all the covers you always hear from other people doing his stuff. Except for when The Cowboy Junkies cover him. For my money their versions of "Tired Eyes" and "Powderfinger" are the only two versions of Neil songs that even approach being as good as his versions.

At 9/24/2013 01:42:00 PM, Blogger asg said...

anonymous 11:19--I've been to LOTS of open mics and I hardly hear ANY Neil--a friend of mine and I do a bunch though...but hardly anyone else does, that seems weird to me...Neil doing covers? Bring it on...

At 9/24/2013 04:42:00 PM, Blogger timothy fontenot said...

I loved Neil Young at Farm Aid Saturday because the music he covered gave me a "Reason to Believe" in him again. I don't know exactly how to explain it but those songs hit a nerve. I'm hoping he goes in that direction with his next album no matter if it would be entirely made up of cover songs.

At 9/24/2013 06:11:00 PM, Blogger Jason Smith said...

... there have been a lot of times I listen to a song and say to myself "this is something Neil should be singing". I realize it is more gratifying for an artist to cover their own material, but sometimes it is pretty magical when they bring some old standards back to life.

At 9/24/2013 07:09:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

There is something magical hearing Neil put his take on other peoples songs. That folkie spirit wrapped by the voice and demeanor of 'one of the best songwriters of his generation'. I also find his tempo and clarity of acoustic guitar picking to be as mesmerizing as any. He does not miss notes and his interpretations often include melodics not found in the originals. From Oh Susannah! at the Bridge Concert last year through Americana and this years Farm Aid, he has shown his utmost mastery of folk rock presentation at his highest level. Every time he brings something new it is groundbreaking in it's own right, and usually for another new and different reason. May the well never run dry. May you stay, forever Young

At 9/24/2013 09:00:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

Thanks Mr H & SONY & others.

we liked what the editor of Broken Arrow mag said afterwards: "Neil continues to humble me."

At 9/24/2013 09:38:00 PM, Blogger brigitte bissonnette said...

Neil came out with a performance of covers which is so powerful and revealing that i'm, frankly, blown away. The songs were well chosen, the imagery in Early Morning Rain, Changes.... Way to go Neil!!
What's great about Neil is he talks about climate change straight up, on the soap box, but the revelation and nuance is in the well chosen covers and the lyrics.

At 9/26/2013 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

"Without gravy, I just don't see the point."
--Lyndon Johnson (Bryan Cranston) in All The Way

Great comments about Neil's cover songs at Farm Aid; especially love the quote from Broken Arrow. Humility is God's way of helping us appreciate life, or as Neil puts it:

He only gave us the good things
So we'd understand
What life without them would be

Personally I love when someone else performs a cover song that means a lot to them. I could fill a dozen Comments sections with ones I've heard over the years and which were my favorites (e.g. Alejandro doing Sway; Casuals doing Anyone Else But You). Neil's set will be there now for as long as my memory can hold it.

A couple weeks back, I caught The Swinging Steaks in an all-too-infrequent live gig. After doing a bunch of their own songs, they did a covers segment that included a Thousand Dollar Car that was for the ages (they are big fans of The Bottle Rockets and do a few of their tunes). Then Tim asked the crowd "Did everyone catch Neil Young at Johnny D's the other night", after which he said "Well, we'll try to make up for that just a little bit" and launched into Powderfinger...amazing! Even though this song has been a part of their set for many years, and I've seen them many times over the years, it was the first time I heard it performed by the entire band; worth the wait and then some.

Caught yesterday's early performance of All The Way, Robert Schenkkan's new play at The ART. Equally funny and haunting, it's a dramatization of LBJ from the assassination through the '64 election, focusing on the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and culminating with MLK's Nobel Peace Prize and LBJ's election. Coming right after seeing Pete Seeger and then Neil's set, the timing was perfect for me.

Bryan Cranston does it yet again. I've been fortunate to see some of the greats (e.g. Pacino and James Earl Jones twice, Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson), and his performance equals any other. To go from Hal to Heisenberg to LBJ--that's acting! Rest of the cast also incredible, especially Michael McKean as J. Edgar Hoover, Brandon Dirden as Martin Luther King, and Dakin Matthews a Senator Richard Russell.

Seats were in the very front row. At one point, LBJ/Bryan was eating a sandwich after Lady Bird has harassed him ("'ve got to eat something!"). They were so close, I could smell the bread! And Dakin Matthews did a great Q&A afterwards...especially impressive given that he had another performance coming up in less than two hours. Hope this goes on to Broadway so everyone has the chance to see what's sure to be an American Classic. And Bryan looked right at me at least a half dozen times during the show.

Live Music is Better...and Live Everything Else Too! And sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time.


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