With Allen Toussaint
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Thursday, September 23, 2010
For musical chameleon Neil Young, a solo show at the Hard Rock would have seemed prime to sample his more subdued side, but in truth, he went
mellow only in moderation. Young's well-documented evolution from rock to rockabilly, folk to country, grunge to
thrash, and experiments with ambiance and electronica has made him famous
for keeping his audiences guessing and breathlessly anticipating his
every move -- and the night's glance back at the expanse of his early catalog, while
also previewing newer material from the upcoming Le Noise, had plenty of intrigue.
Looking dapper in a white fedora, seersucker sports jacket, dark T-shirt, and jeans, he won the capacity crowd's approval early on, performing acoustic versions of "My My, Hey Hey," "Tell Me Why," and "Helpless" in succession, seemingly intent on fulfilling the audience's expectation that he'd return to his wandering-hippie days of old. But then again, Young is also known for foiling that anticipation, and here he did the same. Although he did shuffle from acoustic guitar to upright piano to grand piano and, for one number, "After the Goldrush," even to a pipe organ -- all with his ever-present harmonica in tow -- he also rocked out on electric guitar with a ferocity that rivaled his full band shows.
Likewise, being famous for testing new songs on unsuspecting audiences, Young did plenty of that as well. His new album due next week, dubbed Le Noise, is a series of atmospheric soundscapes featuring Young alone on guitar directed through the ambitious agenda of producer Daniel Lanois. The adoring audience heard six of the album's eight songs, and he introduced a pair of tunes that have yet to find any home at all -- "You Never Call" and an odd would-be children's song played at the piano called "Lela." The latter provided his most expansive introduction of the evening ("This is a song for all the little people, people too little to be here tonight. Mama said 'nope.'" ... all the tiny, little redneck people..."). It was an especially auspicious intro, given that his comments were mostly random and infrequent.
Truth be told, the Le Noise material sounded somewhat slight, consisting mainly of Young thrashing about on electric guitar and tossing in lyrics that seemed to be obsessed with darker themes. In fact, one, "Love and War," would have fit comfortably on his protest opus from four years back, the searing Living With War. Overall, the material seemed little more than another grand experiment like Trans, one that will eventually find its way to the margins of his ample catalog.
With nearly half the concert devoted to unknown offerings, the crowd was often left milling about impatiently, eagerly anticipating the next chestnut that would reverberate with second-nature familiarity. Relief came with riveting versions of "Down by the River" and "Cortez the Killer," the obvious and expected "Cinnamon Girl" and "Ohio," a tender "I Believe in You," and the somewhat ironic encore of "Old Man." Indeed, at age 64, Young was clearly more suited to sing the song's lyrics from the perspective of the title character. Even so, he stuck to the original lyric, describing himself as "24 and there's so much more" just as he did four decades back. Given that his voice -- that famous high-pitched warble that still defines him -- still sounds as sturdy as ever and that he's no less energized or ambitious, we can only hope that in fact the "so much more" still proves prophetic.
Young was preceded by legendary New Orleans pianist, producer, and songwriter Allen Toussaint, a last-minute substitution for British folkie Bert Jansch, who had to bow out early due to illness. With a brassy voice and a sprightly keyboard style, the ever-affable Toussaint charmed the crowd and narrated a tour of sorts through his prolific career, touching on the numerous Top 10 hits that have likely made him a wealthy man. Among them were "Mother-in-Law," Southern Nights," "Fortune Teller," "Brickyard Blues," "Working in a Coalmine," and the instrumental "Java," songs that have been covered by a remarkably eclectic group of patrons, including the Stones, the Yardbirds, Ernie K. Doe, the Judds, and Glen Campbell. "I'd like to thank all those who are only going to see the back of my head all night," he offered up early on. Still, being heard, if not seen, was all that mattered.
Personal bias: I missed hearing favorites like "Long May You Run," "Comes a Time," and any number of Buffalo Springfield songs, but considering his sprawling repertoire, it's only natural that there would be numerous tracks left out.
Random detail: Having seen him up-close and personal earlier in the day, I can attest to the fact that he still looks terrific, with longish hair and a hint of facial hair. So too, he seems humble and down-to-earth, and I would note that at the news conference, he shook my hand three times!
By the way: Rumors are there is going to be a Buffalo Springfield reunion taking place at his annual Bridge School benefit concert. When asked if it will last longer than one show, Young replied "We'll see how it goes..."
My My, Hey Hey
Tell Me Why
You Never Call **
Peaceful Valley Blvd. *
Love and War *
Down by the River
Sign of Love *
After the Goldrush
I Believe in You
Cortez the Killer
- encores -
Walk With Me *
* new - from Le Noise
** new - unreleased