Neil Young @ Nokia Theater - 10/30/07 and 11/2/07
The day after Neil Young’s first show at the Nokia Theater, I was having trouble believing I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing.
I got pictures, but they’re kind of blurry. My friends seem to remember the same things happening, but I could have dreamed them up too. It just seemed like too much.
As you may have guessed if you read my earlier review of Chrome Dreams 2, I’m a big fan. Long time collector, seen him sixteen times, sometimes play his songs with my own bands etc. I’m not sure what the casual fan thought after hearing only a handful of familiar tunes at a big expensive concert like this. I didn’t see a lot of grumpy faces on the way out so I assume they were OK. But for a dude like me, the experience of watching him unearth three completely unreleased songs from the shelved 1975 album Homegrown – heard only on distant audience recordings from 1974-76 – was a jaw-dropper, a fantastic gift.
These were dropped in the midst of a solo acoustic set where the familiar material was made up of rarely-performed deep album cuts, and only two of his greatest hits. There are probably statistics on Hyperrust.org as to the last time the world has ever heard Campaigner, A Man Needs A Maid, Harvest or Love Is A Rose on stage, but I was sure never there when that happened. And even the hits – After The Gold Rush and Old Man – were welcome ones, and given full-blooded performances.
(More photos and streaming audio from October 30 after the jump.)
Young himself was chatty and having fun, sharing an anecdote about some Norwegians at a meeting of his Canadian hockey pool that grabbed a guitar and forced him to listen to a cover of his own Sad Movies, “the first time I’d heard it in thirty years… and I’d like to play it for you now.” A shouted request for Campaigner from the third row resulted in an apparently impromptu performance of that very song, and yes, he took the bait and changed the final chorus to “even George Bush has got it…soul.” As folks in the upper decks hollered over each other through every silence, he chuckled, “I used to have to worry about what I was gonna say in between songs.” His voice was strong and clear, only occasionally straining at the highest notes. A few weeks into a long tour, he seemed assured and happy with his choices, often smiling as he hit the first few notes.
After a short break, he brought out the team from Chrome Dreams 2: Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina, Rick “The Bass Player” Rosas who’s played on the last three Young records as well as a veteran from his late 80s BlueNotes/ Restless period, and Nashville legend Ben Keith, whose dense, liquid slide guitar has defined countless Young tracks since Harvest.For the first few numbers Keith did his best Crazy Horse rhythm-stomp impersonation (not bad although it does make one appreciate what great foils Poncho Sampedro and Danny Whitten are/were for Young’s fearless soloing), before returning to the slide as the band slowed to a simmer for Winterlong and Bad Fog of Loneliness (another rare one from the early 70s, only released on a live video from 2000), and all the way down to suspended animation for the Don Gibson cover Oh Lonesome Me.
The 14-minute guitar showcase No Hidden Path proved itself one of the strongest contenders on the new album, and in a night filled with unexpected treats, turned out to be the best, and a moment that folks like me will yak about online for decades to come. For over twenty minutes, Young and his crew rode a wave of push-pull intensity that kept receding, then returning stronger than before, almost Coltrane-like in its skill at finding new possibilities in a two-note chord progression. If anything, they cut it off too soon.
Closing with a ten-minute deconstruction of Tonight’s The Night, Young seemed to be in danger of retreating to the deranged character who used to give rambling ten-minute speeches about dope-destroyed CSNY roadie Bruce Berry during his musical obituary, hollering into the body of his piano and chastising his terrified-looking crew, “If Bruce Berry was here tonight… he’d have had this FUCKING SPEAKER FIXED ALREADY!” With 3/5 of the original TTN crew on board (too bad Nils Lofgren was down the street with Springsteen), this version had the spook that most of his bands have missed.
For Friday’s return visit, Young seemed much more businesslike and less talkative during the opening set, although the performances were still excellent. While most of the set list was the same (he dropped Campaigner and replaced Old Man with Heart of Gold, keeping the ratio of hits to obscurities roughly the same), he did drop another bombshell for the Rusties – a crystalline reading of Love In Mind from the still-unavailable-on-CD Time Fades Away. During Friday’s electric set, the biggest surprise was not in the song list, it was how they somehow took No Hidden Path even further out into hallucination land. The addition of Cortez The Killer to the encore was welcome, but started at too fast a tempo and failed to catch fire, the only time in two days that happened. By the time they lurched into Tonight’s The Night, more straightforward a reading than Tuesday but just as brutal, all was forgiven.
This was my first look at the new Nokia Theater; it has a similar seating arrangement to the Gibson (Universal) Amphitheater, and more visible security than Disneyland. It also has the same obnoxious corporate vibe of the Staples Center, except even more focused. There is no smoking section, unless you're in the most extreme VIP bar they have (thank goodness for press passes). There's not separate concessions for food vs. liquor, just one long line for everyone which almost made us late to our seats (tip: ride up to the Mezzanine level, we figured out on Friday they had the shortest lines by far). But it's not a bad place to actually hear music. The sound inside, from the orchestra pit to the top balcony, was crystal-clear and plenty loud. I'll go back, but wait till the last minute to walk inside.Oh, Lonesome Me - live from October 30:
No Hidden Path - live from October 30:
Set list from October 30:
From Hank To Hendrix
A Man Needs A Maid
No One Seems To Know
After The Gold Rush
Mellow My Mind
Love Art Blues
Love Is A Rose
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Dirty Old Man
Bad Fog Of Loneliness
Oh, Lonesome Me
No Hidden Path
Tonight's The Night
Set list from November 2 was the same except: Campaigner and Old Man were dropped; Love In Mind, Heart of Gold and Cortez The Killer were added.
All photos by Bob Thompson for laist.com.