Thursday, May 05, 2011

I Heard Old Neil (and someone else) Sing

Time was, seeing Neil Young was a very special event. Oh, I was never a Neil Young fanatic the way I am for Bruce, but I have many fond memories of seeing him live. He was one of the few major acts I saw while in college, back when he was touring behind Trans. That was nobody's idea of a great album, but it did yield a super-weird version of "Mr. Soul."

Since then, I have seen Neil in several incarnations. There was the show at the Fox, in Detroit, in support of the then still-unreleased Harvest Moon that was pure magic, with Neil going back and forth between instruments and themes all evening long. And the show at Pine Knob with Booker T. and the MGs. And even the Greendale show, even if I can no longer remember any of its songs or much about its supposed message -- except I think it had something to do with being green and having dancers on the stage and a grandpa. Since then, though, I haven't paid all that much attention.

Still, when my friend Judi came across a couple 10th row center tickets at a very right price and thought to offer me one, of course I jumped...

Every once in a while, the Woodward area in Detroit really hops. Last night was one of those nights. The Tigers were hosting the Yankees at 7pm, the Red Wings had a playoff game at 8pm, and we had the concert. The streets were alive, and the sun was out for the first time since last year.

Over dinner at the very loud Hockey Town Cafe, Judi and I joked about being "casual" Neil Young fans, and comparing it to how we'd view casual Springsteen fans at a solo show -- i.e., the ones who wouldn't recognize some song about paying a price. I joked that Neil could drag out Cortez The Killer, one of us might shrug, the other might not recognize it, and then there'd be some guy in spasms of ecstasy.

Inside the Fox, and having survived the ordeal of being seated (one is not seated at the Fox without an usher, no matter how long it takes) and the opening act, we got ready for Neil. I figured I should still know at least half the setlist, despite not having followed much the last decade or so. Then, just before the lights went down, it happened: a blood-curdling whoop, from right behind me. That's right: I was sitting directly in front of Mr. I-got-a-big-tattoo-and-a-bad-tanktop-and-a-worse-buzzcut-and-a-loud-voice-and-I'm-here-to-hear-myself Man. I just looked at Judi and muttered, "oh my God," I mean, what else is there to say in the face of the seemingly absolute certainty that a show is about to be ruined?

When Bruce Springsteen toured behind The Ghost of Tom Joad, he would announce, before the show, "If you feel like clapping or singing along, don't. If someone sitting next to you is talking, politely ask them to Shut The Fuck Up. Don't make me come down there and smack you around." We called it the "Shut the Fuck Up" tour, and, oh how I wished that Neil would have made that announcement last night.

Neil came out, dressed in his white suit, and played My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue). I heard Neil singing some of it, but Mr. I'm-Here-to-Hear-Myself Man (IHTHMM) was much louder. He got all those big words like "Hey" and "My" exactly right, too. Oh, Neil screwed IHTHMM when he sang, "Detroit City will never die" the last time through, but the damage was being done.

My My, Hey Hey, Detroit, May 4, 2011

Thankfully, it quickly became apparent that IHTHMM didn't actually know many of the words to the songs. Not that that really helped matters. He talked loudly to a companion during Tell Me Why, and then... his cell phone rang. He answered on the 4th ring.

As for the show, it was about half older songs that I recognized. Neil would appear indecisive between each song about what to do next, but it appeared to me a total put-on. As for the songs I didn't recognize, most were from Neil's latest album, Le Noise, and for the most part they did nothing at all for me. Mostly they seemed to me basic demonstrations of just how much bass sound he could get out of the Gretsch.

One exception with the new songs was a relatively simple sounding one called Love And War, which worked great until the end of the 2nd verse, when enthusiastic clapping broke out from the back of the hall. We quickly decided that the Red Wings must have scored. IHTHMM then obliterated the last line by screaming out, "Bring 'em home!!" (The youtube video below, shot from the balcony, documents just how loudly he screamed.) Fortunately for us, IHTHMM then announced to Southeastern Michigan that if he didn't hit the rest room that very moment he would be forced to piss his pants. The row cleared for him, immediately.

Love and War, Detroit, May 4, 2011

Neil brought a cottage piano, a grand, and the pump organ, but each was used only for a single song. After The Gold Rush was typically magical and mystical on pump organ, but it had a "been there, done that" feel to it next to my memories of when it was a show closer nearly 20 years ago, Then again, in 1992 "After the Goldrush" was not marred by IHTHMM bellowing out "CLEVELAND!!" at the end of the song (Yes, IHTHMM actually followed that up by screaming out, "OHIO!!," matching a song title that Neil had already played, and for all I know IHTHMM thinks that song is about Cleveland).

After the Goldrush in Cleveland, 1992

As the show wore on, IHTHMM started bellowing for Like A Hurricane, which made me wish, for nearly the first time ever, to not hear a song in concert. ok, ok, exception for Bobby Jean, but I digress.

Then it happened: The set was winding down, time to play a couple oldies and close it up. And Neil played, yes... "Cortez the Killer." IHTHMM was audibly distraught that it wasn't Hurricane (which would go unplayed, as it has this entire tour), but right in front of me, a gentleman there by himself looked skyward, shook his arms, and started thanking his God. As for me, I was just happy to recognize the song. Best dinner prediction I ever made.

Cortez the Killer, Detroit, May 4, 2011

After the show ended with one of Neil's new songs, Walk With Me, IHTHMM sat glumly in his seat. "THAT SUCKED!!" Me, I was pretty much ok with it.