I awoke this morning feeling anew, like a big part of my life had just been affirmed. Like my soul was just a little more complete.
I think that’s the kind of effect a Neil Young concert is supposed to have.
Last night was the most vivid, real and enjoyable concert experience I’ve ever had. Everything about it was just about perfect. My detailed run down after the jump.
First off, we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert. I bought the second price tier of tickets ($200 each) for the orchestra terrace, expecting to be seated in the back behind the main floor section. To my pleasant surprise, the terrace bordered the entire audience and our seats ended up bring almost directly stage left. We were probably the equivalent of the fifth row back but elevated and to the side, almost at Neil’s eye level. The seats were, well, perfect.
I also have to note that Bert Jansch, the opener, was incredible, too. It gave me chills to hear “Blackwaterside,” which most Led Zeppelin fans would recognize as Jimmy Page’s “Black Mountain Side.” Like Neil, Jansch has still got it and it’s good to see such an old folkie still going strong. The guy truly is the best finger-picking guitarist out there.
Jansch played for about 45 minutes, which was followed by a 25-minute intermission.
The lights dimmed and out slinked Young–tall, a little heavier than his heyday, wearing jeans, an army jacket, boots and a white hat from the “Fork in the Road” album cover.
I really dug the set up. It was simply and funky. A seat and two acoustics at center stage, an old saloon piano on one end of the stage and a cool painted grand piano on the other, each with UFO-looking lights hanging over them. At the back was a creaky old pipe organ on risers with a cigar-store Indian to the left and his “personal area” to the right where he kept his beer and, soon, Old Black.
I’ll give you more details on the actual songs with the set list in a bit. First, here are my overall impressions of the vibe, sound and overall awesomeness of it all. What separates Neil from the pack of dinosaur rockers is A) he still makes compelling music and refuses to ride out his years by playing “Harvest” at basketball arenas until he’s dead and B) his voice is still phenomenal. Remember how Bob Dylan sounded like a dying frog at ACL a few years back? Neil is the exact opposite. He can still hit the highest of high notes on “Down By the River” and “Old Man.” And his voice has only gotten warmer with age. I would use the cliche “it’s aged like a fine wine” but that’s not Neil’s style. It’s aged like good tequila. (Does tequila age well?)
Second, the sound of the place floored me. Obviously it’s home to the Dallas Symphony but still, even though it was just one man up there the whole time, I couldn’t get over how loud it was. The music literally wrapped around you like a warm blanket.
Third, as I said before, this wasn’t no “Harvest,” acoustic-only show like I kind of thought it would be. He opened with two straight-ahead acoustic numbers before moving on to some effects-heavy acoustic songs. From there, the majority of the show was balls-out, Crazy Horse-style rock just, you know, without Crazy Horse. Even without his backing band, “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl” sounded as full and powerful as ever. At 64, he can still rock harder than most anyone around. And his guitar tone–like butter.
And lastly, the new stuff he busted out might have been my favorite part of the show. That’s what made it different than seeing some other old band. There’s an element of the unknown there that makes it more exciting than just wondering what songs of his endless catalog he’d pull out for us.
All in all, he played for about an hour and a half with an encore. It was one of the best experiences of my life. But I’m sorry to disappoint many of my friends who told me to try not to cry/faint/other-dirtier-things during the show (and there were a lot of you who said that), I held it together pretty well. I wasn’t like the guy on the front row fist-pumping to “Tell Me Why” either. I kept it calm and reserved and just soaked it all up. It seemed almost surreal to see and hear that voice in person, not 40 feet away from me. It truly felt moved.
And now, the set list:
“My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”- May be my favorite of the night just because of the combination of excitement of finally seeing him on stage plus this being one of my all-time favorites. The crowd went nuts all throughout this, especially on the “rock and roll will never die” verse.
“Tell Me Why”- Again, no fist-pumping on my part, but another one of his best. Sounded better than the album.
“Helpless”- A slightly different arrangement. Again, everyone went nuts. No coke on his nose this time, though.
“You Never Call”- First new one of the night. Got the crowd laughing with lines like “You’re in heaven with nothing to do. All I do is work.” But it’s bittersweet, considering it’s about one of his friends who recently died. Powerful song.
“Peaceful Valley”- My favorite of the new stuff and maybe of the night. Sprawling and meandering song that pretty much tells the history of the U.S. and how we screwed the Indians and then screwed up our world. Great stuff. The best part was how heavy it was, and he played it on an amplified acoustic with effects. It sounded like he was playing bass at the same time.
“Love and War”- Another new one and the first of his semi-autobiographical ones.
“Down By The River”- Wish my dad could have been there for this one. He busted out Old Black, his trusty Les Paul, and did it right.
“Hitchhiker”- Another autobiographical song, which pretty much summed up his entire career. From the first time he tried pot in Toronto to days in Laurel Canyon to his hazy coked-out days to his yearning to be an Aztec or Inca–it was all there. It almost made me feel justified for actually understanding all of those references.
“Ohio”- When he picked those iconic first notes it was almost like an out-of-body experience. Made you feel like you were in 1970 at Kent State.
“A Sign of Love”- One of those songs that makes you think, “Neil’s really a softie inside, ain’t he?”
“Leia”- This was the first time he actually spoke to the audience. He introduced it as “This is a song for the little people. The little people who couldn’t be here tonight. Mommy said no. Daddy didn’t say anything.” A nice little piano ditty about his grandkids.
“After the Gold Rush”- Probably would have been my highlight except for the obstructed view. There was a lighting rig in the way blocking us from seeing all of him when he played that funky old organ. But the organ gave the song new life, along with the new line “look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century.” Goosebumps.
“I Believe in You”- My mom’s favorite NY song and he sang it at the piano directly facing us. She pretty much melted.
“Rumblin'”- Another new, heavy one.
“Cortez the Killer”- Also competed for my favorite, just because it’s such a perfectly Neil Young-type choice of a song to play at a solo show. What to play? Let’s go with that Crazy Horse song about Montezuma and Cortez that goes four minutes before even sing. Sounds good. That’s why I love Neil. Oh, and the fact that you couldn’t even notice Crazy Horse wasn’t there.
“Cinnamon Girl”- Easily the hardest rocking of the night and got everyone on their feet.
“Old Man”- Never has the song been so fitting and felt so right with him singing it. He’s no longer 24 but you can tell he’s learned a lot of those lessons he alluded to in the song. Made it feel truly real.
“Walk With Me”- He left us with a wonderful message that left me feeling that he appreciated all of us there and he wanted us to continue on the journey with him.
Believe me, I’m along for the ride.