9 September 1989
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO
The economy is continuing to prosper and grow away from the recession of the early '80s, the cold war is on the verge of coming to an end, and public confidence is well above average. So, everything is peachy, right? No so, says Neil Young.
On a cold, misty, foggy night in the foothills West of Denver, all attention was focused on the bottom of this famous Red Rock canyon, where a lanky individual, dressed up like a psychopathic gas station attendant, wanders on stage, and strikes the unmistakable opening to "My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)". Unbound by microphone stands or guitar cables, Neil wanders in a seemingly aimless pattern from side to side, facing no one and no where in particular, occasionally yelling, "There's nowhere to hide!". However, thanks to the technology of guitar pickups and microphones attached to his neck-mounted harmonica stand and wireless transmitters, Neil managed to hide from the sellout audience at Red Rocks this night.
Following this anthemic opener was a brand new song which will surely find its anthemic identity in the coming months, "(Keep On) Rockin' In The Free World", which includes lyrics such as, "We've got a thousand points of light, for the homeless man....." This song will appear on an album originally having a tentative title of Eldorado, then later dubbed Freedom.
Next came the award-winning (1988 MTV Video Of The Year) "This Note's For You", in acoustic form, as opposed to the 10-piece brass/blues studio arrangement. During the evening, Neil periodically drank out of a bottle labeled, "Sponsored By Nobody".
But, again, the main focus of the evening was on Neil's new material. Without exception, these new songs paint a very bleak picture of the free world, if not the entire world. Name just about any problem knocking at the world's door, and Neil has probably addressed in one or more of his new songs.
Playing like a panhandling amateur musician in a subway (and dressed to match), it was hard to tell the difference between the multi-million selling singer/songwriter, and a simple man on the street, in the know about the grim realities of society. He spent about 7 minutes hammering out "Crime In The City", which addresses corruption in police forces, broken families (and their victims), and his own suffering as a pessimistic messenger.
Neil provides advice on the best way to kick drug additions, with another new song that simply repeats, "No More!" four times over in its chorus. Towards the end of the tune are the lyrics, "Searching for quality, having to have the very best.....Now scrounging for quantity, never having time to do the test". These obviously capture the essense of a freebase cocaine addict in a way only an ingenious poet could depict someone such as David Crosby, who, interestingly, before becoming an addict, was known to collect high quality guitars, antiques, furniture, but later was so strung out that he stopped "test"ing his freebase for pH levels, and often experienced toxic seizures as a result. Neil sure knows how to hit home.
Neil borrowed a song from his unreleased 1976 album Chrome Dreams, "Too Far Gone", inviting Ben Keith and Frank Sampedro onstage to accompany Neil on dobro and mandolin, respectively.
If Neil offered any optimism in his new songs, it appeared in "Someday", which suggests how workers who died working on the Alaskan pipeline could somehow unearth: "They went to fuelin' cars, now smog might turn to stars, someday".
Neil pacified the audience by performing some of his more popular songs, "Needle And The Damage Done", "Heart Of Gold", "Ohio", "Helpless", and "After The Goldrush", replacing the lyrics, "In the 1970s", with "In the 20th Century".
Maria McKee, formerly of the country-punk outfit Lone Justice, opened with a solo acoustic set of her own, promoting her current solo album. Maria offered a pleasant vocal counterpoint to Neil's nasaly (but likeable) voice.
At no previous concert had I ever seen an entire audience stand up for the duration of a set performed simply with acoustic instruments and vocals. This response makes a strong case for the respect his fans have for what he has to say--no matter how discouraging, negative, pessimistic, whatever, that his lyrics are, people truly appreciate his clear and bitterly honest delivery.
[*****] - Steven T.
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