Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hey Hey, My My

Concert Review: Neil Young with Wilco and Everest, December 4, Air Canada Centre, Toronto

The first thing that strikes me when I see living legends in concert is the range of audience that they attract, and Neil Young attracted quite an interesting mix at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday, Dec. 4, from burned-out hippies older than my parents (for the record, my folks are one year younger than Neil), to kids barely old enough to drink, to youngsters attending the show with their now straight-laced, Bay Street parents who wished they were still hippies. The hipsters, the scenesters, the stoners, the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They all think he's a righteous dude.

Young came on stage with his band and turned the normally chilly hockey arena into the hottest place in town, blasting through "Love and Only Love," and then cranking it up higher with "Hey Hey, My My." Though he looks a little worse for wear, his voice is still strong and he belted out many classics from his 40+ year career. He wailed on the eclectic guitar like it was still 1979, and his band played in the spirit of Crazy Horse. In fact, Young recently commented in an interview with Rolling Stone that he has "no limit" to what he can do with this band, and has known all of the musicians for more than 20 years.

Young toned it down a bit and played organ for "Mother Earth," and broke out the acoustic guitar for "Needle and the Damage Done" and other classics from Harvest. In addition to the classics, Young also played four new tracks which he has been playing for most of this late summer/fall/winter tour. The new trio of "Just Singing A Song (Won't Change the World)," "See Change," (or "Sea Change" depending on who you ask), and "When Worlds Collide," all seem to be very in tune with Young's politics. Yeah, you can sing about change, but let's see some action too. And these new tunes rock pretty hard too. Its nice to know that Neil isn't resting on his legacy, and is still cranking out the rock.

In addition to being a righteous dude, Neil Young can also be a weird dude. The stage was decorated with odd objects - a cigar store wooden Indian in the far left corner, a telephone with its own red spot light in front of the drum set, an artist painting something abstract in the background, a crazy owl painting in the lights, weird lettering in the background that eventually spelled out N-E-I-L in lights during the encore. After his encore of the Beatles's classic, "A Day in the Life," he went over to the marimba and played two odd notes, looked at the audience with a goofy expression on his face, and walked off of the stage. Even his wife Pegi, who sang backup and played percussion and piano during the show, gave him a funny look. But just before this "solo" he stripped off all of the strings from his guitar like the rock god that he is. Awesome. Here's to showing yet another generation how its done.

Set List
1. Love and Only Love - Ragged Glory (1990)
2. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
3. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
4. Powderfinger - Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
5. Spirit Road.mp3 - Buy: Chrome Dreams II (2007)
6. Cortez the Killer - Zuma (1975)
7. Cinnamon Girl - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
8. Oh, Lonesome Me - After the Gold Rush (1970)
9. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem) - Ragged Glory (1990)
10. Needle and the Damage Done - Harvest (1972)
11. Lighting a Candle - New Song
12. Unknown Legend -Harvest Moon (1992)
13. Heart Of Gold - Harvest (1972)
14. Old Man - Harvest (1972)
15. Get Back To The Country - Old Ways (1985)
16. Just Singing A Song (Won't Change the World) - New Song
17. See Change - New Song
18. When Worlds Collide - New Song
19. Cowgirl In The Sand - Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969)
20. Rockin' In The Free World - Freedom (1989)

21. A Day In The Life (Beatles Cover)

"See/Sea Change" fan footage from the summer European tour. The other new tunes can also be found on YouTube.

Wilco has been losing me lately. I loved their 2002 release Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I thought 2004's A Ghost is Born was good, and though many of my friends lauded 2007's Sky Blue Sky, I couldn't get into it at all. Its probably no surprise then that I was underwhelmed by Wilco's performance. Don't get me wrong - they are great musicians, their sound was terrific, and even though lead singer Jeff Tweedy confessed to being under the weather he still sounded great. Guitarist Nels Cline is so much fun to watch. He had two, if not three, face melting solos, and blew at least two strings during his scorching performance. But, this is also where the band lost me. A perfect example of this was their bizarre rendition of "Via Chicago." I did not recognize the tune at first, it started very slow and soft, and then Cline burst in with this screechy/feedback avant rock. Everyone around me, including myself, thought he made a big fuck-up and was playing the wrong song. But given that the band didn't cringe, and that he subsequently made that noise two more times, I assumed that they meant to do that. It was clearly a "WTF?" moment. Layer that on top of the soft, folky Sky Blue Sky tracks, and it made for an anticlimactic opener for a rock legend who single-handedly blew the sextet of Wilco off of the stag.

Set List
1. You Are My Face - Sky Blue Sky (2007)
2. War on War - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
3. Handshake Drugs - A Ghost is Born (2004)
4. Jesus, Ect. - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
5. Impossible Germany - Sky Blue Sky (2007)
6. Via Chicago - Summerteeth (1999)
7. California Stars.mp3 - Buy: Mermaid Avenue (1998)
8. Hate it Here.mp3 - Buy: Sky Blue Sky (2007)
9. Walken - Sky Blue Sky (2007)
10. I'm the Man Who Loves You - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

The Los Angeles-based band Everest opened with a 30 minute set of six or seven songs. They sounded great, if not a little out of place in a giant hockey arena. They were hand-picked by Young for this tour, and are signed to Young's Vapor Records label. I can see these guys easily rocking a smaller venue. They have a fun diary of their tour on their website, where you can also listen to some of their tunes. It looks like they played with local musician Hayden during their Friday night set. Damn, I wish I would have seen that Friday show too.
Buy: Ghost Notes (2008)

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