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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Comment of the Moment: Bands of Neil Young


"Ramada Inn"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse - The Plenary, Melbourne Australia - 13th of March 2013

With the recent combination of news that Neil Young has cancelled tour plans for 2017 and Guitar World Magazine naming Crazy Horse as the #1 Best Backing Band of All Time, it is natural that Neil fans are a bit scattered.

So here's one Neil Young fan's reaction to all of this from Scotsman as the TW Comment of the Moment:
Classic Neil Young, I agree.

I think the most likely explanation here is the obvious one: after two years of extensive touring with the same group, he's worn out and needs either a rest or (more conceivably) a change.

Neil wrote in Waging Heavy Peace that the long 2008/2009 tour exhausted him, not physically, but mentally:

"I am currently tired of my musical self...I have OD'd....It has happened a few times before. The last time was near the end of 2009; I finished that tour and had to stop. Too much of a good thing".

I think the same thing may well be happening here.

So hopefully there are no medical concerns other than those generally asociated with 71-year-old musicians who "ought to know better and thankfully don't" (McDonough).

So what comes next? That's the exciting question! 2016 has again been a good year for Neil musically. I think his touring with POTR has generally been solid this year, and Earth is a very rewarding album to my ears.

David Briggs on his death-bed told Neil to "put as much of himself into the music as possible". By that, he didn't mean "don't play with bands". He was in fact talking about a very distilled, intense form of musical greatness which (to my ears) has been just a little bit diluted recently with impressive but ultimately superfluous layers.

Rule #1: Alone in the spotlight, Neil Young rises to the occasion. That's why the Horse is so powerful: because they give him a rock solid platform and push him to the forefront. They put him alone onto that precipice of greatness and give him a safety net. The same is true of Neil's solo acoustic performances. Or even his shows with 'Poncho and the MGs' or the Bluenotes (a very big band who again had the ability to put Neil Young's guitar playing at the centre of an exciting but uncrowded musical picture frame).

So I'm hoping that when Neil returns to the studio or stage, refreshed and invigorated, we are going to hear some more of this distilled magic, whatever exciting form it may take. And until then, I hope he enjoys a rest and has a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Scotsman.

ps - ...And to demonstrate my point above, do yourself a favour and watch this particularly rich version of Ramada Inn from Melbourne 2013:

https://youtu.be/0C9eThi6w_w [see video above]

Hard to believe this was less than 4 years ago.

It demonstrates just how magical Neil still can be when he combines the right ingredients. BANG! Like a chemical reaction. It's deceptively simple, it's straightforward, everything slots together and has room to breathe.

All the emotional depth and urgency, the hard-boiled rhythmic gutsiness (Poncho is a huge part of this song's greatness), the sense of wide open wondrous space and the heart-twisting eloquent guitar solos are captured perfectly in this magnificent performance. Some of these qualities have been missing recently. It's soulful, but unike some of Neil's more recent songs, it's also profound and substantial. You can get your teeth into it. By all means, go and experience it for yourself.
And Scotsman continues down the thread...
...Worth remembering that Neil has spent the last 50+ years relentlessly following "The Muse". This has generally been good for his art and not so good for his relations with other people. People never know where they are with him. In the past, whole tours and bands have been abandoned at VERY short notice because Neil changed his mind and wanted to do something else. As Niko Bolas said about the Bluenotes: "they planned their life around this band that we knew was just another one of Neil's toys".

Or as Poncho puts it: "Neil doesn't turn corners, he ricochets". He's also very impressionable. People consistently make the mistake of thinking that because NY wants to do something now, he will also want to do it tomorrow. But listen to Don't Take your Love Away From Me on Bluenote Cafe for a chilling and honest confession of how just how fickle he can be.

Look at Neil's touring career and you will rarely find 3 consecutive years where he has essentially done the same thing in a row. And his usual way of dealing with his instinct to shake things up is to make a sudden hard turn, one that inevitably puts a spanner in the works for other people's plans.

This is why some of us scoffed at all the "POTR are putting the Horse out of business" talk. The same was naively said about the Lost Dogs, the MGs, Pearl Jam, the Electric Band etc.

So obviously we can't rule out health concerns (I wish we could), but it seems to me that we're just seeing the continuation of a pattern that has repeated itself for several decades now. In some ways, it's reassuring.

Also worth noting that Peace Trail has already been recorded with a different band (again, for some reason, many people were surprised by this). I wouldn't take this use of a different band as any intended insult to POTR whatsover; their live versions of these songs are clearly accomplished. But it's fair to observe that a change of style was already underway long before this live cancellation.

Scotsman.
Thanks as always Scotsman! And thanks for reminder on the CH video! enjoy.

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7 Comments:

At 12/06/2016 09:51:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Scots, great comments!!

 
At 12/06/2016 09:57:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Scots, what are your thoughts about the electric band of '07/08? They seemed to be a nice blend of giving Neil that space and also with song versatility.

 
At 12/07/2016 01:19:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Why isn't anyone mentioning his comments about "Surprise President"? Neil is worried, I am worried, and you should be worried.

 
At 12/07/2016 01:26:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
--Buddha

 
At 12/07/2016 01:50:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

p.s. Every single version of Ramada Inn was totally fucking great...that's what makes Neil Young so tremendous. I love the Boston version, which was way before the one mentioned here. Does that make it any better, or worse, or the same? As my good friend Yuri likes to say, "You tell me". The snow is coming and the rabbits are very active at night. Went down to the beach at midnight and the tide was low.

Is anybody
Out there please?
It's too quiet in here
And I'm beginning to freeze
I've got icicles hanging
From my knees
Under fifteen feet
Of pure white snow
--Nick Cave

 
At 12/07/2016 06:11:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

Thanks Thrasher, thanks Dan1.

Dan:

Overall I really enjoyed the 2007-2009 electric band, but again I feel they weren't best suited to many of the Crazy Horse songs. Ben Keith's rythym telecaster guitar was very clean and "jangly", perfect for many songs but not quite possessing enough raw power to sufficiently drive Neil's lead guitar into the stratosphere. On the plus side, as you mention, there was plenty of space in the sound for Neil to occupy - something he demonstrated to great effect on No Hidden Path.

My gut instinct is that the change from Ralph Molina to Chad Cromwell improved the band a lot and opened up new avenues for them. Ralph was a bit rusty in 2007 and without his old friend Billy on bass, he was clearly struggling to find his place. Chad Cromwell and Rick Rosas were a better duo with more chemistry.

I think had Ben Keith stuck to steel guitar and Poncho taken over on rhythm guitar (essentially turning them into The Lost Dogs v2) then that might have improved things further. Without Poncho, they still sounded very good, but the heavier electric songs just lack that little bit of cohesion and conviction. Billy Talbot was generally complimentary of the 2009 band but noted "to me, it's not as exciting as Crazy Horse" and I think he was basically correct.

As a general rule, I think the most exciting bands of Neil's career have consistently been those who specialise in one particular niche of music. This idea also appeals to Neil, as it gives him chance play a character, which he clearly has enjoyed doing many times. For the "electric rock" niche, Crazy Horse are number one (with an honourable mention to The Restless, who I feel succeeded in being a sort of slicker and more edgy alternative to Crazy Horse).

Mr. Henry: I think Buddha was teaching us how to detach ourselves from our thoughts; rather than making any commentary on whether a Neil Young performance from 2016 is necessarily better than 1976 just because it is happening now. Buddhism itself is rather old; that's probably not a good reason to consider it inferior to something more modern.

Scotsman.


 
At 12/08/2016 06:52:00 AM, Blogger downbutnotout said...

Yeah-saddle up the horse!

 

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