I arrived in Buenos Aires on Wednesday morning after flying all night. First stop was the ticket agency to pick up my Thursday ticket to The HOT Festival and try for something Wednesday (which featured Beck and R.E.M.). I managed to get a seat in the gold circle for Wednesday, so I then had a seat in that area for both nights. A note about gold circle: here it meant having a seat that was close, but not right up front. You also sat on a level higher than the standers, and had catered snacks and beverages. I really appreciated having a source for chilled bottled water. The unobstructed view was fantastic too.
After a power nap, I headed to the venue which was in the city's polo fields. There were three stages set up, each featuring several South American rock groups. On each night, a South American group opened, followed by two "international" acts: Beck and R.E.M. on Wednesday, Oasis and Neil Young and Crazy Horse on Thursday. I gotta tell you, those Portenos (as the residents of the port city of Buenos Aires like to call themselves) really have good taste in music. The bands singing in Espanol were very good. I enjoyed some very good folk, rock, and hip-hop bands on stages 2 and 3.
The audience seemed very much like what I imagine European audiences are. Everyone stands. Everyone expends energy during the songs instead of whooping it up after the song is over so much. Clapping is done over the head in unison if possible. The audience sings some "whoa whoa" stuff between songs. Really, it's fun to be around; quite different from American audiences.
Beck hit the stage running and never stopped. He played a set very heavy with the Odelay material. I'm embarrassed to say I don't have any of his albums. Man, is he good. His performance was the standout of the entire festival for me. He got the crowd moving and cheering while performing fantastically with his band. I didn't count them, but I'm thinking about 10 including some dancers/singers and a horn section.
I really liked his performance. I can't say enough good about it. I can't give you a setlist, since I don't know his songs that well. He did speak to the audience a bit in Spanish and he played that tune he did at Bridge last year that features Spanish lyrics. His playing features some folk, country, rock, hip-hop, soul. He did this one song in a falsetto voice that was just amazing; I'm sure you fans out there know what that one is. I really really liked Beck.
Next came R.E.M. I have 3 or 4 R.E.M. albums and I really want to like them live; this is the third time I've seen them and they just don't move me. I don't know; it's like they're going through the numbers; even Michael Stipe's dancing style. Michael Stipe did greet the audience with Spanish greetings and he said a special hello to the folks in an apartment building right next to the polo fields who were lucky enough to live where they could see the concert for free. It was pretty funny at the time; he said "take your clothes off"; they were a bit distant but a girl/woman did take her top off and swing it around. Of special note, R.E.M. did play some unreleased songs, never played before their set in Rio a few nights before.
Then came Oasis. I must admit, I've only heard maybe 3 Oasis songs on the radio. They really put on a great show here. I liked all the songs I'd never heard before much better than the songs from the radio. And even the radio songs came across much better live than on record. Their entire set was very well received by the audience too. The place was packed and jammin'.
Their set was a real highlight for me too. They even covered Hey Hey My My. I felt at the time that it meant that they must have contacted Neil and that it would not be in his set. At the end they said something about getting off the stage for the real rock and roll to start.
Then, it was time for Neil and Crazy Horse. I was pretty excited, of course, but the audience didn't seem to be. Lots of Oasis fans left, perhaps because it started raining a bit just before Neil's set. I didn't think that was such a big deal really -- what was more alarming was the amount of people that left DURING the set by NY+CH. I don't think the band captured many new fans with this performance.
Set up: I didn't see the pump organ or any acoustic guitars on the stage. Neil played two guitars; Old Black and "new gold."
Neil started by playing Sedan Delivery. Okay performance; we've heard it before though. What was left of the audience started to trickle out at a faster pace. Then Hey Hey My My. This version blew Oasis' away, but it was kind of like, hey hey, we've heard that before.
Now, I know there is this theory going around that Neil will only play his "Big Hits" because he's never played in South America before. Baloney. That audience knows good music. They want and expect that from the closing act of the entire festival. There was a core of people that stayed for the entire performance, but it must have looked pitiful from the stage to see all those people trailing out of the place during (not before) Neil's performance.
On the good side, Neil's voice was generally very good. He started a couple of verses of a couple of songs in the wrong key and just held it there 'til the next verse. I think that happened during RITFW and maybe another song. He used what for me was a new intro for Cortez -- I thought for a second I was hearing a new song. It sounded pretty cool. And the electric Needle was just fantastic.
But some aspects of the show didn't help Neil's cause, if he's looking for South American fans. He never spoke any Spanish greetings. It seems Poncho or someone could have coached him into saying "Buenos Noches" convincingly enough to the crowd. Before RITFW, which was the last song in the 8-song main set, he did say what I think were his only spoken words, "We love you." Pancho at one point did say "Hola!" to the crowd.
Another thing that didn't help was the extended endings thing. And I'm not just saying that. I mean, after LAH, he did the same thing he did in '96 by ending, singing note for note quietly, building back to another verse. Then doing another long long feedback ending. To me, he's saying to the audience "I know you liked this song so I'm making it last longer so I don't have to come up with anything else to play for you." It really took the song count way down too.
I couldn't believe the band left the stage after 8 songs. The trickling out accelerated to a rush at that point too. After a 3 song encore, I thought that was it. The lights went on, the band went off. I, too, even started walking. I looked at my watch and noticed 11 songs had been played in an hour and 50 minutes. Then the remainder of the audience started cheering. I went back to my unobstructed viewing seat and saw Neil and the band take the stage for a very good version of Powderfinger. Well played, right on the money version. But then, we've heard it before.
Neil came across to the audience as something of an oldies act. They recognized that none of the songs he played were from the last 10 years. They recognized that their festival closing act turned out to be an oldies act with nothing new to offer.
The electric Needle was a nice change-up, but substitute Love To Burn for Love And Only Love and this could have been '97 or '96 or, for that matter, a portion of '91. Except not played with the same intensity as those earlier shows.
Maybe Neil and the band were just a bit flat that night... Sure would be nice to see them try something new -- even changing up the setlist to songs not played in every single Crazy Horse tour of the last 10 years (LAOL excepted) would be nice too. I'm sure the band will work something up for those excellent European audiences. I sure hope he does, anyway.
I had a great time down there. Everyone was extremely nice and helpful and friendly. I know Argentina is famous for its beef but I had no problem finding great vegetarian fare (hey, we could all be happy there). It was a privilege to be a guest in Buenos Aires.
Expecting To Fly