The music of Neil Young means a lot of things to a lot of people. This was evident in the crowd of 1,900 who attended Youngs show on Thursday night at the Morrison Center, where he kicked off the tour in support of his latest album, Chrome Dreams II (Reprise)
. The crowd was varied and ranged in age from teens to their grandparents, with one lucky toddler enjoying his first concert on his moms lap. The rock and roll crowd fit right in to Centers digs, and our fancy seats warranted a fist pump from our ticket-taker.
Young took the stage for a twelve song solo acoustic set. Its a pretty special sight to see; the man himself sitting center stage surrounded by a semi-circle of eight guitars. When he latched on his harmonica, everyone in the house was ready to go wherever he took them. He started out with From Hank to Hendrix, and a little trouble with his guitar and a re-start reminded the audience that the god is a man, and endeared him even more. After three songs, he headed to a piano, stage right, for a haunting rendition of A Man Needs a Maid that featured church-like organ notes giving a whole new meaning to reverb. He ended the first set with a lovely version of Heart of Gold.
Young told the crowd that he grew up near here; or, at least, just Northeast of here, in Winnipeg. When I look out the hotel window, I feel good to see all that open space out there, he said. Then, after a pause, he added, Although you wouldnt know it from the songs I sing.
The electric set brought out longtime Young collaborators Ben Keith from the Stray Gators on guitars and pedal steel; Ralph Molina from Crazy Horse on drums, and Rick The Bass Guy Rosas from the Blue Notes. On the vast stage, it was great to watch the three guitarists huddle together as they played, showing a real camaraderie that let the audience feel like it was watching band practice in a friends garage. The new songs held up well with the old, and the guitar work on No Hidden Path just plain kicked ass. The final song was an extraordinary rendition of the blistering Tonights the Night.
The overall set gave the suggestion of being somewhere else, all the while singing about right here (or just beyond). The piano looked painted with a suggestion of blistering pink bougainvillea, which echoed backdrop of slatted window shades looking out onto an expanse of stucco. A painting of whispering women hung back beyond. A wooden Indian was in the front corner, with an easel next to it. A man with his face hidden by a hat placed paintings on the easel between sets and songs: the solo set was framed with rendering of an N, and the electric set showed the song titles. The inclusion of art and the artist gave a particular air to the goings on. Youngs rumpled linen travelers suit added to the suggestion of being elsewhere, as did a back lit fan that lent an atmosphere of oppressive heat to the proceedings.
Youngs music has many meanings, and everybody brings their own tales to the listening experience. It meant a lot to be there. Ive been singing all day, and I dont care who hears me: Gotta get away from this day to day running around / Everybody knows, this is Nowhere.