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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Comment of the Moment: Neil Young's 2019 Song Setlist Diversity Hits An Alltime Career High

The BIG Setlist
Neil Young + Promise of the Real

Port Chester, New York - Sept, 2018

The Comment of the Moment is from Neil Young's 2019 Song Setlist Diversity Hits An Alltime Career High by Scotsman:
I'll point out that the setlist is so often a crucial part of the art form itself.

Take my favourite example of the Ragged Glory tour in 1991. And we need some context here: this is a tour that was deeply influenced by the then-current Gulf War. Now, take a look at the concluding half of the setlist for an average show from that year.

We have Cortez The Killer, the classic Neil Young story of invasion and destruction, lives torn apart by bloodshed (beautifully performed on this tour). Next up is Powderfinger, another violent invasion. Love And Only Love follows, where a "battle raged on the open page", transitioning into a gritty Rockin' In The Free World where the octave-divided lead guitar is the sound of "bombs falling, buildings collapsing on their families".

The encore consists of some much-appreciated light relief in a call-and-response Farmer John, swept aside by one of the most intense and explosive Like A Hurricane's you will ever hear; this time a story of love (or lust) blown away by a particularly violent, frenzied, man-made storm.

You can clearly see the theme here. Look at the first night of the tour in Minneapolis and you'll notice a different setlist, but one that hadn't yet reached this level of intense focus. A few weeks later in Hartford or West Point, following some experimentation, the tour has found its niche. And you can see how slotting in Sugar Mountain or Old Man would have diminished the effect.

Time and time again, it's not just what is played but what *isn't* played that is significant. A trainspotter-style fan will probably skip the recordings of the 1991 tour entirely; and miss out on some of the most thrilling drama Neil Young has ever had captured on tape.

Another fantastic example is 1989. The early electric shows had Neil playing the brand-new 'Cocaine Eyes', wearing a "Just Say No" t-shirt and concluding each night with a perverted cover of On Broadway ("gimme that crack!") swiftly followed by another song that chronicles the incineration of showbiz glitter, again courtesy of drug addiction.

Later in the year, the acoustic shows would reach their peak with Ohio, dedicated to the "Chinese hero" who had recently stood in front of the tanks at Tiananmen Square, followed by Rockin' In The Free World and a final encore of Powderfinger that casts its (anti-) hero as freedom fighter. One minute Neil is talking to us about the brave guy from China, then he's speaking in the first person, playing that hero's character; speaking as his ghost, or the ghost of someone very much like him.

Yes, these are fairly small details, layers that go beyond the surface. But as we know, small details are what make all the difference. We're dealing with a model train aficionado here: where small details, thoughtful touches, are the whole point. The setlist isn't an obstacle to the art form, it's often an integral part of the art form itself. Even the Mona Lisa sits in a frame.


Excellent Scotsman and appreciated.

The setlist is the story and agree that Neil isn't just throwing out random songs like a jukebox -- as much as some fans might wish.

As we mentioned, see this analysis we presented back in 2010 on the subject of Neil Young's Setlist Variation.

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At 10/01/2019 05:47:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

As always, Scotsman nails it. The details are not always the most obvious but the most important in any art form. Particularly with music.

I finally got to see Muddy Track today and I found it to be the perfect documentary of being on the road in a rock and roll band. Anyone considering a life on the road should watch this before making a decision, as it looks like a ton of hard work and a pendulum of great moments and harrowing ones. Sometimes on the same night. I was whipped out just watching it much less living it. That last song, I’ve never seen Neil more animated. Great stuff indeed.

At 10/02/2019 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Celtglass said...

Wonderful analysis Scotsman! Spot on, especially the idea of looking more closely at the details. Thanks!

At 10/02/2019 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I remember a very important moment in my life. I spent hours examining one of Francis Bacon's "Pope Paintings" and this particular painting was exhibited next to a mostly kind of random selection of contemporary art. I then went to an exhibit in Toronto and saw the very same Pope Painting within the context of twenty or so other Pope Paintings (painted by Bacon). The difference was aesthetically traumatic for me- that is, each one of the individual Pope Paintings seemed to gather more force according to their relation to the others. It was overwhelmingly powerful and altered my judgments of all the paintings.

At 10/02/2019 05:41:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Abner - a very perceptive comment. thanks for sharing.

great example of context and meaning. once again demonstrating that neil fans are some of the most astute music fans around.

At 10/02/2019 08:36:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I’m not sure if I could make similar points about music with specific examples but I have a pretty clear intuition that Scotsman is right. Thanks Thrasher and everyone!


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