5 November 2007
Wells Fargo Convention Centre, Denver, CO
Exactly one week before of his 62nd birthday, Neil Young showed no signs of slowing down the enormous momentum his 40+ year span of a career filled with a remarkable variety of genres.
Billed as the "Continental Tour", Neil is currently promoting his recent release Chrome Dreams II, a sequel, strangely enough, to a 1976 album never released. And, though the majority of tracks from Chrome Dreams (I) have found their way to other albums, including American Stars & Bars, Rust Never Sleeps, and Hawks & Doves, the first Chrome Dreams album ranks with Island Of The Sun, and the first version of Old Ways, as mysterious, legendary, unreleased Neil Young albums.
Chrome Dreams (I) and Chrome Dreams II are both intriguing in that neither have the consistency of merely one Neil Young genre, but instead offer an unusual mix of different styles. Chrome Dreams II offers a salad bowl of folk, country rock, hard rock, and even Bluenotes-era big-band music, yet is interestingly just about as Neil Young as a disc can get.
Neil's wife Pegi served as the opening act, performing a half dozen tracks from her new CD. I would best describe her music as having good lyrics, and a soft folk/country sound. She enlisted the help of Rick "The Bass Player" Rosas, Ben Keith, and Anthony Crawford (who notably toured with Neil in 1984-1985 in support of Old Ways). She bragged that, unlike other performing acts that drink water from landfill-stuffing plastic bottles, she chooses to from a non-disposable container.
Walking out on stage with a mild smirk and a hand wave, Neil opened with a track he opened his performance on Saturday Night Live with in 1992, "From Hank To Hendrix", now with updated lyrics reflecting a healed relationship. Next came "Ambulance Blues", with the cynically-toned ".....you're all just pissing in the wind."
In between acoustic songs, sitting in the center of a circle of about eight different acoustic instruments, Neil periodically swigged from his "Sponsored By Nobody" bottle, claiming, "Tonight's show is brought to you by water."
Most impressive during this acoustic set was his version of "Man Needs A Maid", with Neil alternating from grand piano and string-synthesizer--eliciting a standing ovation. Also from the same 1972 album Harvest, Neil's solo acoustic version of the title track sounded much better, and more sprightly, than the country-rock band version from 35 years earlier. "After The Goldrush" on a different, upright, piano, sounded strong. Neil drew both from his obscure catalog, and from his Billboard hit catalog, ending his acoustic set with the ever-likeable "Heart Of Gold".
Without so much as saying a word, Neil left the stage, and the arena turned on the lights as if the show was over, though almost everyone knew to stick around for the upcoming electric set. Meanwhile, my friend and former co-worker Kari and I, who were seated halfway across the arena from each other, independently sought each other out--we both knew each other were attending this show, and with some searching somehow we were able meet up. Though Kari & I have known each other for 7 years, tonight was the first time I actually got to meet her husband, which was most excellent particularly given that all three of us are HUGE Neil Young fans.
Time flies by, lights go out, and the stage is ready for the electric set. From his first solo album, the rocker "Loner"; from his second album, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." With Ralph Molina on drums/vocals, Rick Rosas on bass, and Ben Keith on guitars/vocals/keyboards, Neil essentially assembled a band that perhaps most closely resembles Crazy Horse, quite possibly deliberately. The four-piece amazed the audience with their ability to produce a nice volume of full sound.
On the third track, the throwaway, but nonetheless infectuous "Dirty Old Man" from the latest album, in true form Neil botched the lyrics, making the song sound more like "F#$&in' Up", but in all honesty the performance was quite enjoyable. Only Neil could pull that off.
Electrified versions of "Winterlong" and Don Gibson's "Oh, Lonesome Me" were impressive, but "Spirit Road", "The Believer" and "No Hidden Path" from the new CD were downright solid.
During the show, a stagehand brought out 4' x 5 ' pictured display cards indicating the song titles. For the encore, he brought out a card that simply indicated "N", which the stagehand turned upside down twice in mock confusion. "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like A Hurricane" featuring Keith on the winged synthesizer lowered from the sky, ended the superb show.
I'm tellin' ya, the guy doesn't even have to try, and he's still awesome.
[****1/2] - Steven T.
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