Sunday, 16 March 2008

Still rockin' in the free world

On Friday night one of my biggest dreams came true. No, not the one where I develop superpowers and save the world from alien invaders, but something even cooler. Neil Young. Live.

Apologies to all non-Neil Young fans. This is going to be a bit long and gushy.

That's one of the best things about London - everyone big comes here a lot more often than they make it to New Zealand. This show was at the Hammersmith Apollo (a huge and acoustically excellent theatre), which was packed mostly with middle aged fans, but with a healthy portion of twentysomethings like me. I can only call myself twentysomething for the next four months, so I'm going to take the chance to do so.

The stage looked like a hippy junkyard, filled with amps, drums, various stringed instruments, an orange piano painted in flowers, letters and numbers covered in light bulbs, a wooden Indian and lots of paintings. Some guy was adding to them, painting at the back of the stage during the show, often watched by a little boy. Random. Maybe it was Neil Young's son or grandson and that was his way of babysitting.

The opening act was Neil's wife Peggy, a lovely platinum blonde with a deep, sweet voice. She played a pleasant set of country songs that drew warm applause, but that was drizzle compared to the thunderstorm when Young came on stage.

Shaggy grey hair straggling away from a big bald patch, a tan suit for the acoustic set, a paint-splattered black one later. He sat in a circle of guitars, picked up one, strapped on a harmonica and played From Hank to Hendrix. After finishing that, and each other song, he'd get up and wander around, as if wondering which of his zillion classic tunes to play next. When some wag in the front row (there were more of a few in the audience) made a crack, he turned and told them to "f*ck off. You know, you're great. I'd go anywhere to see you," to general amusement. That aside, his banter was good-natured. Every now and then he chucked in a few reminisces - like the time he wrote Don't Let It Bring You Down after coming back from seeing Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival.

Right. He's old.

Anyway, the acoustic set was superb, a mix of famous songs like After The Gold Rush and obscure ones like Ambulance Blues. My highlight was Cowgirl In The Sand.

In the second set, he brung the grunge.

The change between Young's mellow and manic modes is amazing. That thin, heartbroken voice grows razorblades and his guitar starts to drip venom. There's one word and a world of difference between Old Man and Dirty Old Man.

Like the Stones and Iggy Pop, Young is a fogey with the energy of a teenager, jumping around the stage, tearing out solos, snarling into the mike about Johnny Rotten and the powder and the finger. The long jam at the end of the new and rather mediocre closer of the set, No Hidden Path, was self indulgent, but the encore - Cinnamon Girl and a mesmerising version of Tonight's The Night - finished the show on a high.


Lindsay Margenau said...

Hey Tane!

Did you know Neil Young is Canadian?? And he grew up mostly in Winnipeg. My aunt actually dated him when they just graduated high school, my mom still remembers her older sister and her cool boyfriend coming to pick her up from Junior High in a convertible. Crazy, huh?? - Lindsay

Tane Aikman said...

Wow, that's so cool. I wonder if your aunt's mentioned in his biography - I read it a few years ago, and it talked about his high school years in Ontario.

Just another reason why Canada is cool.

Perecle Chang said...

You suck. I never wanted to see Neil Young anyway. He's terrible, boring and whiny. I'd much rather see cueca dancing in Chile ...