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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Jonathan Demme Double Feature Weekend: Neil Young's Complex Sessions + Trunk Show

A Jonathan Demme Double Feature Weekend with Neil Young's Complex Sessions (1994) + Trunk Show (2009) on Screen #2 | Hearse Theater | NYA.

Film Director Jonathan Demme (22/2/47 - 26/4/2017) is credited with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), PHILADELPHIA (1993), SOMETHING WILD (1986), HEART OF GOLD (2006) and RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (2008).

Jonathan Demme and Neil Young have had a long and highly productive relationship over the years.


Both Bruce Springsteen and Young were nominated for Academy Award nomination in 1994 for Best Song in a film for Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia". Bruce's nominated song was the film opening "Streets of Philadelphia" and Neil's was the closing title track "Philadelphia".


The Complex Sessions
A Neil Young & Crazy Horse Film
Directed by Jonathan Demme

Neil Young and Crazy Horse's "Change Your Mind" from the Complex Sessions masterfully captures the group in all their power and beauty.

Recorded at the Complex Studios in Los Angeles, where Neil Young and Crazy Horse had recorded Sleeps With Angels, director Jonathan Demme filmed them performing four songs from the album. Shot over two nights on Oct. 3-4, 1994, the 30-minute video contains "My Heart," "Prime Of Life," "Change Your Mind," and "Piece Of Crap."

In the 15-minute "Change Your Mind," with its lengthy instrumental passages, Demme varies the lighting from near darkness to excessive brightness. (See "Change Your Mind" lyrics analysis.)

"Change Your Mind"
Neil Young and Crazy Horse

From NEIL YOUNG'S - and Rock n' Roll's - Finest Moment (Fi - The Magazine of Music & Sound, June, 1996) by Paul Williams:
At my local record store, I recently came across a videocassette which apparently had been available for a year, but which I'd never heard about, called Neil Young and Crazy Horse: The Complex Sessions. Bought it, brought it home, watched and listened and was absolutely astonished.

Don't fall into the trap of believing that the great moments in rock and roll history are all in the past. This twenty-seven minute performance by one of rock's greatest and most enduring artists and bands is headline news. What rock and roll has always tried to achieve has never come any closer than this, or Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," or Janis and Big Brother live in 1967, or Springsteen and E Street in 1975.

You shoulda been there.

And in this case, thanks to the miracle of recording technology, you can be. This videotape will wear out no faster than your all-time favorite 45, it is just as deserving of repeated plays, just as possibly able to continue to deepen its resonance through the rest of your lifetime. The best argument I've ever heard for owning a "home theater" setup with superior audio capabilities.

The mix on this tape is so brilliant it even sounds good on a damn TV set, but I keep wanting to turn it up louder than the TV will go.

The Complex Sessions seems to me to represent a pivotal moment in rock history (as, say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" did), not only because it's so good but also because it is a breakthrough in the creative use of a medium (the long-form rock video as a work of art) that has defeated most supplicants, including Neil as often as not. On the other hand, it isn't selling many copies, and in our increasingly corrupt pop culture, that and inches of press coverage are the only measurements of "significance." Oh well. Great music is still great music.

If a tree falls in the forest but nobody writes a review, did it make a sound?

Complete article on Complex Sessions NEIL YOUNG'S - and Rock n' Roll's - Finest Moment (Fi - The Magazine of Music & Sound, June, 1996) by Paul Williams.

More Jonathan Demme and Neil Young, Sleeps With Angels reviews, and "Change Your Mind" lyrics analysis.


Neil Young Trunk Show was filmed over two nights at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, PA in December 2007 which we had the privilege of attending.

Photo by thrasher

More on the Trunk Show concerts in Philadelphia.

Neil Young
Tower Theater, Philadelphia, PA - December 2007

Photo by thrasher

Below, a Jonathan Demme interview on Neil Young Trunk Show film at Toronto Film Festival in September, 2009.

From Variety - Demme digs Neil Young concert pics :
"We don’t have an illusion that this is something that can move into a movie theater and play for weeks," Demme says, acknowledging the tough times facing docus. "I’m hoping we’ll have some great moment in theaters, but I know full well this is a cable and DVD play." Demme is already prepping the DVD, which will include eight songs not seen in the 82-minute theatrical version.

Additionally, Demme is thinking about another film with Young to complete the trilogy: "I just feel that the physics lead to a third movie." he says.
Trunk Show's Mission: "To blow your eardrums out"
After Greg Kot's rave review of 'Neil Young Trunk Show: Scenes from a Concert', we thought we'd be hard pressed to find a critic who could top describing the indescribable.

From Reverse Shot by Andrew Chan:
Trunk Show allows us an intense focus on an aging man throwing his entire body into the music, at times seemingly surprised by the passion and sheer sadness of the sound he’s making.

There are, indeed, few sounds in popular music more heartbreaking than a Neil Young vocal.

Sometimes a sharp and atonal bleat, sometimes hanging nervously in the back of his mouth, Young’s voice is so instantly memorable it needs no words and no narrative to flesh it out. Demme trusts in this and is clearly, appropriately, in awe of it, but he also isn’t interested in presenting us the same permanently plaintive Young. In an interview, he has even advised: “If you’re not a Neil Young fan, don’t waste your time . . . if you don’t love electric guitar, don’t go.”

Accentuating the murkiness and loudness of the rocker’s new material is a stage lit by dim, sickly yellow and purple spotlights, substituting for the comfort of Heart of Gold’s ochre and umber. Gone are the backdrops depicting hearth and home; here, a few grotesque props remind us of the set design for the grungy Young-directed concert film Rust Never Sleeps. As if standing in defiance of those who accused Heart of Gold of pimping Young as some Starbucks-friendly folkster (or those who remain suspicious of an artist who briefly cultivated a soft-rock following in the Seventies), Trunk Show eventually announces its mission to blow your eardrums out.
The meat of the film is not the bravely shy singer but the merciless guitarist, and “No Hidden Path,” a monstrous 20-minute jam that brings the first half to its climax, serves as a kind of litmus test. Taken from his latest studio album, Chrome Dreams II, the song starts out with images of moon and mist that would have fit in the lyrics of “Harvest Moon,” before launching into the type of vague spiritual pronouncements that have recently muddied Young’s once-vivid songwriting.

Once the guitar takes over, though, there’s no turning back. A cacophony of escalating moans, yelps, and screeches, the performance is likely to try the patience of all but the truest devotees. But by the end, the uninitiated may feel they’ve undergone something like a religious conversion—especially when Young lets our bleeding ears rest once again on some of those impossibly delicate ballads. Even the most brutal of art-house provocateurs would have a hard time cinematically sustaining such an outburst of anguish and foreboding, while steering us so swiftly back to safety and solace.

What emerges is the most coherent and generous portrait of this artist yet captured on film, and probably the most remarkable melding of his soft and hard sides since the 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps.
When he’s stalking across the stage in a rocked-out stupor, wisps of hair dangling in his face, it’s the force of his commitment that moves you. Where Heart of Gold showed us a man ready to make peace with the dying of the light, Trunk Show gives us all the rage Young has left in him.

Awesome Andrew. Thanks!

More reviews of 'Neil Young Trunk Show: Scenes from a Concert'.

From an interview with Director Jonathan Demme on Spinner by Liisa Ladouceur:
"The film was shot over two nights in 2007 at the Tower Theater in Pennsylvania during Young's 'Chrome Dreams II' tour. It eschews the chronology of the concerts' set lists, instead jumping around between electric and acoustic numbers both familiar ('Cowgirl in the Sand,' 'Cinnamon Girl') and rare ('Ambulance Blues, 'Mexico') and what passes for costume changes at a Young show (jacket goes on, jacket comes off). The focus is on the interactions between Young and his band, and Demme admits there was 'minimal' pre-planning before the shoot. 'I just tried to respond spontaneously to the music,' he says.

One impromptu moment captured in the film is when Young appears to forget the words to his hit 'Like a Hurricane.' Demme responded by putting the lyrics up onscreen, karaoke style. 'The whole point of that song is that the person telling the story gets lost in a hurricane,' Demme explains, laughing. 'So when Neil is wandering around the stage, forgetting to sing into the microphone, it was like he got lost, too. I thought it was perfect. And Neil liked it; he asked me to keep it in.'

Demme admits he's a 'Neil Young groupie' and says he's already planning a third film with the singer, although no details are forthcoming. And while he says 'nothing can ever compete with live music,' he still finds concert filmmaking exciting.

'We can present a more intimate view of what's going on on the stage.' he says. 'We can pull the audience out of their seat and put them inside the music. Because it's the music that's the message. It's what takes us on the journey.'"

A terrific interview with Demme on MSN by Seán Francis Condon:
"Seán Francis Condon: Is 'Trunk Show' the most elaborate sound mix you've done?

Demme: No. In fact, when we did 'Heart of Gold' - when I've done any of these performance films, whoever's doing them - you cut to the board mix. But then you go on to a movie mixing stage, and you break all the tracks down and you make a brand new mix that in theory is going to be the best sound tapestry and make sure you get everything right. We did 'Heart of Gold' that way, and Neil was at the controls. But here, the more we cut to the board mix, the more I thought it would be insane and kind of against the whole vibe of this show and the film to break that up. This sounds live to me! So, we really stuck with the board mix. Ninety-five percent of what we hear now is what the people in the room heard those nights. There are a couple of places where just one of the levers wasn't up enough and we couldn't hear something. Here and there. This is essentially like a bootleg soundtrack."

DEMME: "When I see him galumphing across the stage in the middle of No Hidden Path, so deep in a trance-state, making sounds that I've never heard and I find so thrilling … it's like if Tchaikovsky had been a guitar player. I just think in terms of the word master coming into my head. Look at this grizzled master just burning this stuff down."

Also, see Trailer for Neil Young Trunk Show Movie.

More on the Trunk Show concerts in Philadelphia.

jonathan-demme.jpg torontofilmfestgrin090603-crop.jpg
Jonathan Demme and Neil Young

More on Jonathan Demme and Neil Young:

- Young and Demme Discuss Trunk Show Movie

- Trunk Show's Mission: "To blow your eardrums out"

- Unscripted Interview: Demme & Young

- Director Jonathan Demme on "Prairie Wind"/Heart of Gold film

- "Heart of Gold" Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

- The Complex Sessions: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Directed by Jonathan Demme

Photo by Larry Cragg

Also, In Memory of Jonathan Demme: 1944 - 2017 .

Film Director Jonathan Demme has passed away at age 73
Musician Neil Young and Director Jonathan Demme - 2012

Photo by Victoria Will/AP
(Click photo to enlarge)

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At 5/16/2020 12:09:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

In other news: The Greedy Hand Store at NYA is now open. It's all "Homegrown" there. So if you're in it for the t-Shirts...

At 5/16/2020 04:27:00 PM, Blogger Roberto said...

Shocked by the contrast between the soulfulness of CYM and the Belushi meets Welfare Mothers of PoC..
I dont remember having watched this movie back to back Before now..I still remember when I bought Sleeps with Angels and went around looking for this CD. It was impossible to get.
Then Neil and the Horse played Bridge School and we all got the acustic version of CYM, guitar changed but the smell was the same beautiful one.
Thanks Neil for putting it out.

ps today by chance I've bought the complex sessions cd online, 2nd hand. Can't wait to have it.


At 5/17/2020 01:20:00 PM, Blogger Devan said...

It's so great to finally have a decent quality of Trunk Show in the wild. It's my favourite document of Neil Young's live show ever created.

At 5/18/2020 03:34:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Trunk Show.

The thing with Trunk Show is it doesn't really feel like a concert film of the live shows it represents. This, it turns out, was likely the intention. As Jonathan Demme said of Journeys:

“I don’t think we want to see the audience. I don’t think we want to be reminded that this film was performed for anyone other than us...we're not interested in a record of a concert. We’re interested in a cinematic experience for the movie-goer.”

And that's what Trunk Show is: a cinematic experience where the music has adjusted to the film, rather than vice versa.

But I think this approach ("we're not interested in a record of a concert"), whilst interesting, is a misunderstanding both of Neil's music and his audience.

David Briggs once said: "what's the point of making a live record if you want to go back and put on giant stacks of background parts?". Now, that might well be up for debate, but you might also consider: "what's the point of filming a live show and then deleting the sense of it being a live show?".

Sometimes, doing things that have no point is a great way of coming up with something new and interesting, so I won't knock this approach. But I do think Trunk Show's (and Journey's) chosen stance gets in the way of the musical art they are fashioned out of.

People who watch concert films, I think, enjoy the sense of being at a live show. And there's always been that sense of exciting tension between Neil and the audience, where he is playing to the room. It's a fundamental part of the magic. Trunk Show, whilst being visually engaging, kind of misses out on all of that. It's an approach that gives the impression of performances that have been taken out of the environment they were born into.

Now, before I am accused of negativity, I'll mention that the performances are enjoyable (and the sound has been spiced up more than on London) and overall it is a fun film shot in a very colourful and captivating way. But I think Tim Pope's London captures the inherent drama and atmosphere of this tour more powerfully. And I think some of the Hammersmith performances might have the edge on Trunk Show, as well.

No Hidden Path (with extended fizzling guitar solos that sound like fissures erupting in the Earth) is a highlight of both shows, but whatever it sacrifices in pure unbridled energy at the penultimate London show is made up for in musical sharpness and focused intensity - the sense that the guitar solos have their own story to tell and journey to take us on. Thankfully we now have had the chance to enjoy both films, on their own merits. But for me, Tim Pope's London is the most captivating of the two films.

There has been a lot of great stuff on NYA lately. Those who haven't yet checked out the Hearse Theater are missing out. A surprisingly common view is that concert films are somehow less interesting than audio recordings (or live albums are somehow less essential than studio ones).

Certainly, visuals are by no mean essential and can sometimes detract from the musical experience (I think at times Trunk Show willingly falls into this trap). But a lot of Neil's live work is designed to have a visual element to it, and, particularly as an electric lead guitarist, he is a supremely engaging performer to watch. And he's always been a performer who thrives on the live stage. I think Neil's many concert films are an important part of his work and his legacy, and its great to have an opportunity to enjoy some rarer ones recently.

More, please.


At 5/18/2020 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Peacelover Doc said...

Hard to post after Scotsman as he's way more thorough than I'll ever be so I'll just say I liked Trunk Show & really enjoyed Spirit Road & No Hidden Path

At 5/18/2020 10:10:00 AM, Blogger Mister Henry said...

Who Is Watching

"We are not souls dwelling in a body. We are bodies dwelling in the soul."
--Tiokasin Ghosthorse

When my grandsons are older, I can watch Trunk Show with them. I can tell them how we saw the show in Boston just a few days before this was filmed, when Pegi opened for Neil and then sang with the band. When Ben and Rick rocked like kids in the garage and No Hidden Path was even longer and more glorious than this one, or maybe it was just me and their uncle being there to see it and hear it and be there.

I can tell them how the man who directed this film was a charming and creative person, how he came to Boston to show the film he made and talk to everyone there about it, tell them about being there when he talked about his decision to put more cameras there and that he was one of the people filming the show. About how he illustrated his method by having his friend Robyn Hitchcock perform a song and asking anyone with a camera--back then it was not that common and often forbidden to have one at a concert--to film Robyn's performance and send the video to him, he'd try to include it with his own film of the performance using lots of his own cameras to get a feeling of how people experience live music.

I can tell them this was a different way to film music, before live streams and DIY shows and whatever else has happened since then. That they were doing something a little bit different that maybe caught on and gave us a chance to see how it was. That every film is really a bit of time travel but mostly it's what you're seeing right now and how that can be a part of the present and the past. That I sat one morning thinking of them and our family while trying to find words to describe how it felt to be there.

I can tell them how wonderful and also sad the songs about Carrie seemed then and even more so now. How watching Neil with Pegi and Ben and Rick can make you happy even when you're thinking that they're gone. How knowing that Jonathan and Elliot were such a big part of this and they're gone was part of my reason for appreciating this now while I'm thinking of them and what we might do later. How Neil had this film that lots of people wanted to see because the music is great and the performers were amazing and he decided to show it at just the right time.

Sometime later I can tell them how it was dedicated to a friend who was part of so many wonderful films, how he was a great buddy to Ben and his family. I can tell them about the people who are gone and are still here when we watch and think and talk about them. How music is like love and life is our song. Then we'll watch and listen and be there again.

At 5/18/2020 10:43:00 AM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

London and Trunk Show make for a splendid double feature. One is a full concert experience and the other is an artistic expression of a concert experience. Both have elements I enjoy, and both focus more on the songs rather than the actual experience of a concert. The audience is only essential as a inspiration for the musicians who are performing, and to quote Neil, “live music is better, bumper stickers should be issued”. Performing in front of a audience will almost always bring out something unexpected from an artist, and both films illustrate this.

The London film shows Neil completely in the zone in the context of a traditional concert experience. While Trunk Show focuses on specific moments within a concert setting, including some back stage elements to tell it’s story. The intentions are completely different from each other and therefore provide two separate viewing experiences.

I agree with Scotsman that London creates a more compelling concert experience. Yet Trunk Show manages to create a slightly more intimate experience, although in a truncated fashion. I actually loved both films equally but for different reasons, and extremely happy that Neil plans to release both films commercially.

I wrote Neil a letter this week asking him not to give up on the Blu Ray format, as he has mentioned he feels that the format is “largely dead“. For an artist so committed to the highest quality sound to compromise his films to DVD is disappointing to me. I don’t agree with his sentiment, but I may be in the minority. If he answers my letter I guess we’ll see what he thinks, but if he hadn’t released Archives Volume One on Blu Ray I would have never known just how much better they are compared with DVD’s.

Either way, I told him he could count me in for either format. I still want to support the physical product over streaming.

Peace 🙏

At 5/18/2020 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

Doc: "Thorough" - that's an excellent polite way of saying "long-winded".



At 5/18/2020 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Peacelover Doc said...

Scotsman, I certainly respect your knowledge, enthusiasm & points of view.

At 5/18/2020 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Flyingscotzman said...

...I know, thanks Doc - and the same to you.

Interesting points of view from everyone here I think.

Dan S: I like blu-ray too, excellent format for film releases. The blu-ray of Bobfest '92 is a good one for those who haven't checked it out - must surely be one of the earliest digital HD concert films (courtesy of the Japanese film crew), and by some distance.

Physical releases of some form will be around for a long time, though they need to offer soemthing beyond what we can get through streaming: classy packaging, photos, booklets etc.


At 5/18/2020 01:52:00 PM, Blogger Sami said...

Trunk Show is a one of the best concert films there is. Seeing and hearing it finally in pristine quality was a staggering experience.

Demme was a master whose ability to look at performers with true compassion, whether they were actors or musicians, was so honest in its curiosity that his movies constantly bring me to tears. It's breathtaking the way he captures Neil here, lost in the music.

It's a shame these concert films, this in particular, are usually overlooked when talking about Demme's oeuvre. This is so powerful stuff in how it documents a performer and an artist at work. It's the human touch.

And yes, this being the tour I saw Neil the first time live is definitely an added bonus. No Hidden Path expanded my mind in ways that continue to this day.

At 5/18/2020 02:16:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Dionys - thanks for update.

always thought that was pretty funny to name your merch operation The Greedy Hand Store. that Neil

@ Roberto - quite a clever line there: "Shocked by the contrast between the soulfulness of CYM and the Belushi meets Welfare Mothers of PoC."

right, the acoustic version of CYM @ Bridge was pretty mind blowing w/ the feedback.

@ Devan - Trunk Show in the wild! how about that?!

next thing you know, Homegrown will be released!

@ Scotsman - very nice and well argued, as usual. thorough, too, which we like @ TW.

Good points on Demme and Pope's approaches. Even more interesting is the turnabout on WELD II. You recall WELD has almost entire songs like CG where the cameras only show the audience going nuts. Recently, neil said there's a WELD II which focuses only on the band.

It would seem there's some middle ground somewhere between the 2 approaches, like split screens.

Speaking on BluRay down thread, we recall that there was to be a feature where the viewer could select between cameras and angles? That would be kind of cool and solve the issue.

btw, this would be a no-brainer CotM, but we think Mr H gets the honors on this one.

@ P&L Dr. - Spirit Road & No Hidden Path are a double feature unto themselves!

@ Mr H - thanks. we want to be there as well when you watch w/ your grandsons.

Look for CotM tomorrow.

@ Dan - right a Pope/London and Demme/Trunk Show would make a great double feature, for sure!

The Directors definitely had their own approach. But you have to admit that Trunk really puts you on the stage w/ the band.

@ Sami - Demme was a master, indeed.

As great as Complex and Trunk and Journeys films are, his real legacy will be Heart of Gold.

Although, that 20 minute No Hidden Path is right up there capturing all of the intensity.

At 5/19/2020 02:20:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I am really interested in the differences between live and studio. Maybe "live music" is categorically distinct from "studio"? Scotsman mentions the tension between Neil and the audience, a point that seems to unearth often disregarded elements of the live show. In the pandemic world, I am noticing that many people have simply accepted zoom meetings, they don't think critically about them. A person in the flesh can be formidable, funny, engaging, and so forth in ways that cannot be "caught" or "duplicated" on film or video. I think we always have to remember that our physical presence matters to others. When I zoom with our sons I go away glad to know they are ok but ache to hug them, to feel their human presence. I am going to watch the concert films, thanks everyone for such interesting comments.


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~~ Benjamin Franklin


(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul

the zen of neil
the power of rust
the karma of the wheat