Let me start by simply saying this. There are concerts, and then there are concerts.
I’ve gotta be honest here and say I’m a little reluctant to write anything about Neil Young here in the wake of the spamming and flaming frenzy that continues to this day over at my review of Neil’s controversial Living With War CD released earlier this year.
But like I said, there are concerts, and then there are concerts.
When you’ve gone to as many shows as I have over the years, there are a handful that really stand out. For me, one such night was when I saw Bruce Springsteen on the Darkness On The Edge Of Town tour at the Seattle Center Arena in 1978. Some five hours after I first entered the building, Bruce came out at 2 AM, with the house lights up and half the equipment already torn down, and played “Twist And Shout” for the fifty or so of us diehards who refused to leave.
It was just amazing.
Another such night was when I saw Neil Young at the Paramount here in Seattle in 1989. This was billed as a solo acoustic show and Neil was coming off a string of largely forgettable albums like Old Ways and Everybody’s Rocking. Most Neil Young fans remember this as the most schizophrenic period of his career.
Many were ready to write off Neil Young entirely.
So what actually transpired that night was something I will never forget. I’ve seen Neil Young numerous times, both solo, with Crazy Horse, and with Crosby Stills & Nash. And it’s always pretty much a guarantee you’re going to get a decent show. I mean when we are talking about a guy who has written as many amazing songs over the years as Neil Young has, how can you not?
But this was something else. Let me set the stage…
Like I said, this show came at a point when Neil Young’s last really great record, Rust Never Sleeps had come some ten years prior. So what those of us attending the show that night expected was nothing more than what it was actually billed as: a night of Neil Young playing an acoustic set of his greatest hits. You know? “Heart Of Gold,” “Sugar Mountain,” and the like.
And that is exactly how the show began innocently enough. There was a very nice acoustic set of Neil playing the hits, followed by an intermission. Perfect opportunity to drain the lizard and get a beer. But then something totally unexpected happened. I was about midway through my beer when I heard feedback.
That’s right. Feedback.
The same kind of feedback that takes up a full third disc of Neil’s Arc/Weld live album if you happen to own that now rare version of it.
Something was up. And it was goodbye beer, back to seat.
And for the next hour or so, Neil Young and his new band, The Restless, proceeded to completely blast the 3000 or so of us folks crammed into the Paramount out of our seats with the loudest, most blistering, and completely unannounced and unexpected set of electric (very much so) music I’ve ever had the shock to witness.
It was absolutely incredible and even more unexpected. Not only that. This was one tight ass band. Don’t get me wrong. I love the stuff Neil does with Crazy Horse. But nobody will ever accuse them of being a well-oiled unit okay? The Restless on the other hand? Sharp as a fricking razor.
And you’ve got to understand something here. Freedom, the album widely acknowledged as Neil Young’s comeback after wandering somewhat aimlessly through various genre experiments in the eighties was still some nine months away. A lot of folks had written Neil off entirely.
But on this night, Neil Young was trying on this new music for the first time. At that point the album which would eventually became Freedom was still in the working stages, and was actually going to be called Eldorado.
None of us attending that night had any idea that the album that would re-establish Neil Young as one of the all time greats was in our futures. But Neil gave us a little taste of this particular future that night. Big time. Performing yet to be released songs like the then title track of Eldorado in between glorious feedback laden takes on gems like “Down By The River.”
It was absolutely incredible.
A full on metallic assault worthy of a 15,000 seat arena in the confines of a 3000 seat theatre more suited to somebody like George Benson (and Neil played a version of “On Broadway” that night so heavy it peeled the ceiling) than to somebody like Metallica.
“Rockin In The Free World?”
Played for the very first time before an audience that night. What became one of Neil’s all-time classics was tested out on those of us fortunate enough to be in attendance that night.
So what prompted me to write about this, one of the greatest concert memories I have in a lifetime of seeing shows tonight?
Well that would be the gift dropped in my mailbox this morning from my good friend James Tolin. Don’t ask me where on earth he found this. I don’t care. But James dropped a bootleg CD of this very show in my mailbox this morning.
I didn’t even know that such a bootleg existed. Earlier tonight I called James to thank him and he said that all he wanted to know was whether the concert I have raved about for years was as good as I remember it.
Well ya know what James?
I’m listening to it right now and getting floored all over again. I’m also actually very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the recording, given how loud I remember the show as being in such a small place.
So that would be an affirmative James. And Thank You.
Like I said, there are concerts. And then there are concerts.
1. Comes A Time
2. Sugar Mountain
3. The Needle And The Damage Done
4. After The Gold Rush
5. For The Turnstiles
6. Silver And Gold
7. The Ways Of Love
8. Days That Used To Be
9. Heart Of Gold
10. Heavy Love
11. Don’t Cry
12. Cocaine Eyes
14. Box Car
15. Mr. Soul
16. Cinnamon Girl
17. Rockin In The Free World (first time ever played)
18. Bad Fog Of Loneliness
19. Down By The River
20. Hey Hey, My My
21. On Broadway
22. Tonight’s The Night