I left the studio early yesterday, went home and took a two hour nap to make sure that I was at full power for the solo concert Neil Young put on at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. He’ll finish a 4-day run this evening. I’m a fan and the description that my niece wrote for the Hollywood Reporter made this show a must see. Imagine being able to experience some of Neil’s greatest tunes in an intimate setting without the structure imposed by a strict set list and other musicians. This was Neil at his best. I’ve seen him perform with Crazy Horse in the past and know he can jam and rock with the best of them but last night it was just Neil and his collection of guitars, two pianos and an organ situated on top of a riser in the middle of the arrangement.
At 8:10 Neil walked out from the darkness on the left side of the stage and sat down in a simple, straight back, black chair surrounded by at least 7 guitars and a “bantar” (a Gibson instrument that has the neck of a guitar and the body of a banjo). He said nothing through the first 4 or 5 tunes…he launched first into “From Hank to Hendrix” and didn’t come up until he finished “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”.
At 68 years old Neil Young was calm, collected and focused as he delivered two sets of material from his own catalog and that of writers he reveres and respects…including Phil Ochs (“Changes”), Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”) and Gordon Lightfoot (“If You Could Read My Mind”). He shared stories of the Hank Williams guitar he played, the Martin he got from “Steve Stills” and the other acoustic guitar that had been shot through during an earlier period of its life.
There aren’t a lot of singer/songwriters that I can think of that can perform a solo show to over 3000 fans and hold them at rapt attention for over two and half hours. I imagine Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, Garth Brooks and a few others…but this was a presentation by a master songwriter accompanying himself as if he was playing in his living room on his ranch in Northern California. Neil nailed it.
But along with all of the great music and soulful renditions of tunes with heart, there were the inevitable distractions. After finishing a tune at the piano, Neil stood up and castigated some audience members near the front row that thought it appropriate to talk quietly as Neil sang. He was clearly bugged about it and went on for several minutes as he paced around the stage. The rest of the audience was with him. We were all invited in to Neil’s “space” for a special acoustic performance and some people in the most expensive seats thought it just another chance to socialize.
Or shout at the top of their lungs before, during and after the songs. This was especially apparent after the intermission when the alcohol had been flowing for a while. It was obviously a distraction to the artist AND the vast majority of Neil’s fans that were thoroughly engrossed in the show. It got so bad that a very rude guy not too far from my wife and I was hauled away midway through the second half. And an usher had to traverse from the side to the third row center section as an audience member stood up and started waving and jumping up and down during one of the final tunes. It was impossible not to be distracted.
If I could only record Neil as I have done with Albert Lee or John Gorka, then I would have all of the great things that happened last night, better sound and none of the nonsense.
And what about Pono? To his credit, Neil didn’t mention Pono even once during the show…this was about the real deal…the music. There were Pono T-Shirts for sale in the lobby, however.