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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Comments of the Moment: Neil Young's Bands

Neil Young w/ Poncho and The MG's
2002-05-18, Rock am Ring Festival, Nürburgring, Germany

What started out as a post on an off hand remark by Neil Young on reuniting with CSN someday, turned into a full blown discussion on other bands that he has played with and the resulting music.

From Neil Young: “CSNY Has Every Chance Of Getting Together” | MOJO , the Comments of the Moment highlight an intriguing exchange between Ian and Scotsman:
flyingscotzman said...

Ian: "Poncho And The MGs" are one of my favourite live bands. The music they made together on stage in Germany (May 2002) is extremely good, and it's a huge shame they didn't do more together. Though I'm thankful for what they did do. I like the album Are You Passionate, as well, but they only really came into their own on the live stage.

If I were to pick my three most exciting live bands with Neil, the ones with the most excitingly-structured sound and best chemistry, then that band and The Bluenotes would probably be in there with Crazy Horse.

I agree absolutely that "trying new ideas" is one or Neil's strongest abilities: most of my favourite albums have been the most unusual ones. The appeal of Poncho is that he is the perfect right hand man in this task. He sounds great in various projects (with or without the rest of CH), and also provides plenty of spiritual influence and a dedicated work ethic that has largely been missing since Mr Briggs left the building.

I think he has probably been under-appreciated down the years; people who aren't musicians don't realise how much of the sound he actually makes, or how much influence he has. He's by far Neil's best backing guitarist since Danny Whitten. You get magic by mixing together the right musical elements and waiting for a chemical reaction; and the reaction between Neil and Poncho has proven itself to be a particular powerful and exciting one. And you can never predict the results.

David Briggs, on Neil's ability to chose a band for himself: "Can you imagine, Ralph and a bongo player! How would you like to play with a fucking bongo player? Neil knows nothing about chemistry or producing, he knows how to play and sing and write. Anytime he tries to do anything other than that, (the Transband) is how it turns out."

Niko Bolas said: "You can't do a Neil record without Poncho....he is the glue...without him, it falls apart". And I generally agree with that.


At 1/31/2017 11:02:00 PM, Blogger (D.) Ian Kertis said...

Scotsman: On Poncho and the MGs, I could probably talk for ages. For some, the softer sound is not palatable. The other issue is Let's Roll. There's been plenty of discussion as to Neil's intent with the song and whether it was misunderstood, which I won't venture deeply into here. But suffice it to say, AYP? was presenting a different sound and style of songwriting from what others may have been expecting, and then you throw in a curve ball like Let's Roll, whose weighty subject matter and heavy-handed approach threaten to overshadow the entire project.

Perhaps because of these challenges, I've found myself treating this record differently from others. I've experimented with my own mixes, rearranging the tracks in an order that makes sense to me. For some reason, and with the utmost respect to the original artistic intent of the finished album, this has been a particularly fun record for me to shuffle around, maybe because it has such a breadth of material. The first four and last four tracks, respectively, hang together musically and thematically, with Quit and When I Hold You in my Arms seeming to be natural bookends to take us in and out of the soul sound, while tracks 5-7 seem to be on a separate tangent. What turned this upside down and backwards for me was, of all things, the photo on the back cover, showing note cards with the names of all the songs plus Gateway of Love. I have read in Shakey that pieces of paper were shuffled to determine the sequence for Harvest Moon, and I wonder if the same is true here. Following the AYP? note cards (minus Gateway of Love), I found an alternative sequence that works strikingly for me, especially if you conceptualize it as a double LP: Side A: 1. When I Hold You in My Arms 2. She's a Healer; Side B: 3. You're My Girl 4. Differently 5. Be With You 6. Mr. Disappointment; Side C: 7. Two Old Friends 8. Goin' Home; Side D: 9. Let's Roll 10. Are You Passionate? 11. Quit (Don't Say you Love me).

When I Hold you in My Arms and Quite now literally bookend the album, and when I listen this way, it becomes clear how much those two are sister songs: the tempo, subject matter (conversations between lovers), backing vocals, and the electric guitar/acoustic piano combo. Moreover, Side 1 of my lineup acts as an overture of sorts to the entire album, with She's a Healer's refrain of "Let the good times roll" signaling the opening of musical proceedings, rather than acting as the finale. The drawback is the "side 2" portion, in particular the fact that My Girl and Be With You sound similar enough that I'm not sure about sequencing them this close together, though I think My Girl and Differently dovetail pretty nicely, both musically and lyrically. More surreal is the heavenly organ of Two Old Friends trailing off to make way for the red-hot blast of Goin' Home. In turn the abrupt end of Goin' Home makes a striking transition to the low, ominous rumble that begins Let's Roll. Like the shocking events by which this song is inspired have stopped everything and everyone cold. The title song becomes the emotional climax of the cycle, to which Quit is the perfect intimate antidote. I hope I'm not bastardizing Neil's artistic intent here, but crazy as it may sound, the note card photo kinda seems like an invitation. I'm curious if Neil ever considered this an alternative sequence and interested in other fans' impressions, were they to listen in this order.

At 2/01/2017 06:44:00 AM, OpenID flyingscotzman said...

Thanks Ian. Interesting thoughts on rearranging the album AYP. There's something about the released version, isn't there? It doesn't quite hold together; it hits a bump in the road and doesn't really recover. I think Neil would like that metaphor.

I think overall he could have trimmed it down a bit, whilst using more exciting versions of the rockier tunes. In it's released form, it lacks a bit of edge. But overall I love the sound, it was a perfect band for Neil (more exciting than the 1993 line-up with Keltner and Cropper) and it's a shame they didn't do more together.

I have always quite liked Let's Roll. I appreciate the way it captures the horror of the moment in the closing instrumental. You can feel it in your gut, this sense of dread and struggle. The problem is that the album version is too subdued; it's performed with all the intensity of someone drinking tea in their living room. I much prefer the vicious "purging of demons" that takes place during the 18th May 2002 live version in Germany. Exactly the same applies to Goin' Home.

Thanks so much Ian and Scotsman for the intriguing comments and the respectful exchange. And in particular, for resurrecting the memories of one of Neil's more obscure and elusive band lineups: Poncho and The MG's.

So we just say that if even Neil Young fans can agree to disagree in a respectful and civil fashion on such weighty matters, what in the world is wrong with those who have to engage in violence over far less consequential issues?

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