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Neil Young's solo performance last night proved to be a mixed bag for this fan. As always, one of the pleasures of going to see Neil is meeting up with other Rusties, and I want to say that I haven't met one yet who was less than friendly or lacks a real passion for the man's music - which is the main thrust of our compulsion to follow him all these years. The music matters indeed. Sharing the passion with other like-minded fans is a value-added bonus that I truly enjoy.
To be sure, Neil is in very fine voice. Opening with Tell Me Why, I immediately appreciated the cozy comfines of the Wiltern Theater. The show is not loudly amplified, but the sound pristine. Neil and acoustic sounded absolutely sparkling throughout. Moving from guitar to guitar, piano to organ, Neil appeared comfortable and seemed to be making a genuine effort to present his art in a thoroughly professional manner.
Did I forget to mention "passion" and "intensity"? Yeah, i did... for I found the overall show to lack a cohesive intensity, like that in place during similar acoustic outings. Most specifically, like that of the Freedom Tour of 1989.
My hesitation to call this good show great mostly has to do with Neil's spoken dialogue centerpieces of each set. In the first set, neil spent a lot of time talking about Homegrown, how it's become a protest song, yada yada... When in fact it certainly doesn't rate as a great song -- in fact it's very essence lies in the rag-tag distorto performance given it by Neil and Crazy Horse. As a solo acoustic song, it's just another dumb toss off.
In the second set, I think Neil really sabotaged the flow of the show as he went into the long Old King story dialogue. For one thing, the story isn't that spellbinding (someone in the crowd even made a crack about that, which seemed to bemuse Neil for a minute or two). Secondly, and you may dispute me on this - I don't rate Old King as a song to spend any amount of time on - it being almost as 'ditty-ish' as Homegrown. Now we're talking about 10-15 minutes of the second set dedicated to this spoken/sung tribute to Neil's dog -- I'm sorry, but I would trade that for a couple of other tunes (Prime of Life? Western Hero?), whatever they may be. Truth be told, the whole story thing doesn't suit Neil's style and it fell flat for this Rustie.
To compound this dragging interim, Neil followed up Old King with a dirge-like Long May You Run. Now here's a song that is a much better "TRIBUTE" type of song than Old King. (They do kind of go together -- tribs to dog and car.) But this time Neil sucks the life out of it with this funeral-type organ arrangement. It didn't work, for me, at least....
Either way, Neil's dead-on performance of Ambulance Blues preceding these two songs provided a set-up that just couldn't be maintained by this 2nd set lapse.
As always, I love how Neil works new songs into his set. Much discussed on the Rust list, I won't get into their relative merits other than to say there is some nice melody going on. But the lyrics and overall composition just doesn't rate as his best -- as acoustic numbers they don't rate up to those on Harvest Moon (his last real acoustic venture).
Finally, it took the final number of the evening -- Pocahontas -- to see Neil in all his intensive raging glory. Here was a man that seemed fully invested in the music -- 12 string glimmering, invested emotion, lyrical imagery and Neil just stomping away at it as if he were doing Fuckin Up. To be honest, it was worth the price of admission to just see him perform that.
Others may disagree with me, as is their wont, but I feel that however good his intentions, this show isn't what it could be - though I know it's only one night, the set-list seems to be the "MAIN" set-list -- the one that he has carefully honed down, perfected and preferred to present to his audiences as the way he sees things at the moment.
It would be incorrect to say I didn't enjoy the show - I did, immensely.
It's tough sounding like a nay-sayer in front of those devoted to all good things Neil. Yet I've followed his career long enough, spent enough time and $$$, to feel that I've built enough equity to be allowed to criticize the artist that I truly admire 99.9% of the time.
(more reviews to be added soon... --RE*AC*TOR)