Friday, May 1, 2009

Heart of Gold


I think I saw the best concert of my life last night, and I'm still all a-tingle. Neil, man. Neil Young. He played for over two hours at the Sprint Center last night and was still going strong when we finally had to leave. He's like 63 or so, but he played like a 20 year old grunger in a garage. He was the MASTER of ROCKING OUT. What was weird and wonderful was the way Neil Young moved when he played. He stomped around and crouched and swayed and shook his loose shock of gray, thin hair like some old shaman calling out to the spirits for a good hunt.
And his voice was pure Neil, sounding straight out of the 70's. Not all beat up and reduced to a croak like Bob Dylan's voice.

Neil Young took over the stage like a storm rolling in. The review from a concert he gave in December could just as easily have been talking about last night:

"You think you know Neil Young by now, and then he plays a show that leaves you slack-jawed by his conviction to shake things up. Young has released several live recordings over the years, but none of them could have foretold the onslaught of raw energy and guitar heroics he unleashed at the DCU Center Saturday night. "

"Young was relentless in the heavy distortion and feedback he coaxed from his battered guitars as he dived headlong into the opening "Love and Only Love."

"Giant video screens occasionally zoomed in on Young's face scrunched into a scowl as he worked out expansive, and rather experimental, guitar solos."

"Young was so vital, so intense, that he completely eclipsed his opening acts.
Everest, as promising as it was, seemed swallowed whole by the arena setting that Young would later galvanize."

About midway through the set, Neil switched to acoustic guitar and played vintage favorites like, "Heart of Gold, Needle and the Damage Done, and Old man. I felt so lucky to hear him play these live, I was jealous of myself. The crowd went even more nuts than before, and they'd already been yelling in approval the whole time. Two twenty-something males sitting in front of us burst into motion as soon as they recognized "Cinnamon Girl," and began nodding their heads in time to the music. They sang along to "Down by the river."
There was something curious: On the song "Old man," there were a couple of times during the song when some guy played a brief banjo part, as is heard on the hit version. Well, when he would start playing that banjo part, the crowd went even more wild. Roger wondered if he was some well-known musician, and I wondered if it was just the pleasure of hearing that familiar banjo part all of a sudden, that made everybody scream with delight. Or was it just the inherent magic of the banjo?

One highlight for me was when Neil put down his guitar, walked over to the mini-piano, took a swig of beer, and then dug into the keys for a rollicking version of "Are you ready for the country?"

Neil also played a harmonium and harmonica (at the same time) for the song,"Mother Earth" (Natural Anthem.) But he spent most of his time ripping his electric guitar to shreds. I was glad we had the binocs so I could Neil up close. His face is haggard with age and he wears a permanent frown while he sings and plays. But listening to the lyrics of many of Neil's recent songs, you realize that that hardness is only skin-deep.

One of my favorites is "Light a candle:"

Instead of cursing the darkness
Light a candle for where we're going
There's something ahead, worth fighting for.

When the light of time is on us
You will see our moment come
And the living soul inside will carry on.

It's a chance to give new meaning to every move we make
In the cavern, in the cave, where we come from.
When the light of dawn is on us
We will see what we can be
And the ancient ones can sleep an easy sleep

In the hallways of the ages, on the road to history
What we do now will always be with us.
It's a chance to give new meaning to every move we make
In the caverns, in the caves, where we come from.

We watched the crew set up before Neil and his band came on stage. The crew wheeled in huge stage lights mounted on really high poles. They brought in a monstrous box fan, and a ginormous speaker. "I sense impending intensity," I told Roger at the time. There were unusual stage effects: a lighted wooden cigar store Indian, and an old-style telephone (as red as the Batphone, Roger noted) and with its own special light to shine upon it, to make it more visible. During the concert, an artist stood with his back to the audience, painting on a large piece of canvas.

The photo above is from another concert this year. When photos from last night's concert become available, maybe I'll post one of those. Just stick a t-shirt and a flannel shirt on him, and you get the idea.

The review excerpt is by James Reed, from the Boston Globe.


  1. i am very jealous. darn it all...i have "cinnamon girl" on my ipod! i'm sure that mr. young's politics and mine are antithesis to each other, but i'll always love his music. did he sing "southern man"? great that you got to see him. what the heck were you doing out at a concert on a thursday night!!!???

  2. Somehow your second comment disappeared. I clicked on "publish" and it tells me the comment has been moderated, but it won't show up.

  3. Oh by the way --he didn't sing Southern Man.

    And hey --Thursday was when the concert was. So it had to be done. Andi was nice enough to stay with the girls.

  4. Dammit I am jealous too! All we get here in Lawrence are these 20-something bands with the dudes wearing ugly goatees.

    Neil is my hero!

  5. you gotta get to the big city more often, kansas longhair. oh, don't those 20-something bands all sound alike?! wormy little boys trying to sound all deep and relevant. yeah, i'd say old neil has 'em beat by a country mile.

  6. Old Neil has more soul in his pinky than a collective of wormy young ones.

  7. Rode across a moat
    with a Cummins Frill Tulip
    in my hand
    Picture window exposed
    an art gallery
    I walked in with a bright face
    to a bustling bohemian bungalow
    I made an Aunt Va. vase for the tulip
    Eldah in seclusion,
    Youngabelle with a tiny drumstick
    telling me of Evil Edna
    Eldah enters and tickles
    the ivory with Twilight
    Youngabelle knows
    Eldah plays loud and fast
    when she knows a song
    Got the tour
    Eldah perfects her personal gallery
    Youngabelle's room has potential
    and a secret exit
    Removed a slug
    Trekkie in the attic
    watched Spirit and the indian
    hip hop dance in glee
    Read amazing illustrated stories
    of gifted fruit, spaghetti with swiss balls,
    and a sneak peak at talking planets!
    Awe inspiring piano Beatles songs!
    Eldah liked blank card,
    Youngabelle did not
    We were all what
    the cards said we were--but not really
    well, maybe
    Light at the end of the hall
    presented Eldah
    trickin' out the yo-yo
    My mind exploding
    with what these
    singing sisters
    would reveal next
    I half expected
    them to start
    walking on the ceiling
    The brightness never ending
    Even as I crossed back
    over the moat

  8. Omigod, this is so beautiful I think I'm gonna cry. What a lovely poem about my girls. I'm going to print it off and keep it. It's something they'll enjoy even as they get older. Love the names Youngabelle and Eldah! You're so clever. Anyway, thanks for writing this. I love it.

  9. It's not really a poem as much as a list. However, call it what you will. I'm glad you liked it-I had a really nice time--your daughters are awesome, but you already knew that!

  10. "I was jealous of myself" - that is a great line.