May 22, 2010 – 5:11 pm

Neil Young’s on the road again and Karen Barry catches the man on Opening Night in Albany, NY. The excitement is palpable as the solo show is both revealing and touching as Neil Young performs seven new songs and pulls out a rare oldie - Hitchhiker.

To be at Opening Night of a Tour is special. Especially now with the Internet, which is of course, amazing, but also tends to suck the surprise out of everything unless you can avoid it, which I never can. Last Tuesday (May 18) was Opening Night of Neil Young’s Twisted Road tour, and it blew my fucking mind. (Wednesday was Night Two, and ditto.)

Yes, yes, I was at both shows, and I will be at the next one, and the next, and the next. (And if you don’t already understand why someone would go to the same show over and over, dear Reader, I could explain it every which way to Sunday and you still wouldn’t, so I won’t.)

Let me just come right out and say it. Neil Young still has The Edge, folks. He still has The Spook. He can still surprise you. Still shock you. Scare you. Thrill you. Make you laugh. Make you cry. Pull you to the edge of your seat and throw you back again. If you let him in, he’ll walk right inside your mind, take a trip down to your heart and not leave until he has said hello to your soul.

In short, the guy can still make you wanna go stand out on the sidewalk and throw flowers at his bus as it pulls away, feeling like a jackass all the while, unable to stop yourself. (I didn’t do that. Yes. I did. No I didn’t. Yes I did. No I didn’t?) And on and on. You get what I’m saying, right? The guy has STILL GOT IT GOIN’ ON. In spades.

I’m not really great at the blow-by-blow review in full living color, I’m better at the overview. Maybe I’m just lazy. But I don’t think so. I go in with feelings, I come out with feelings, it’s the feelings I remember. In fact if I paid a little more attention to facts instead of feelings I’d probably be a lot better off, but I just can’t seem to, I’m just not wired that way, and am having trouble re-wiring myself. I have tried.

So. Overview. Neil Young did a solo show that was not, as everyone expected, solo acoustic (there is a T-shirt that says “I said solo, they said acoustic”). It was a solo show that was somewhat acoustic, but also electric, unexpected, and original. Edgy. Heavy as all fuck.

Details? You want details? Okay. There were many, and few. The set was sparse. Intimate. But things were constantly changing; there was a back and forth between new songs and old songs, acoustic and electric guitars, standing and sitting stances, two pianos, an organ. Even Neil’s look surprised: He has a beard. (Dapper!) In general, there was a feeling of controlled chaos. Controlled, beautiful chaos. Which maybe was the whole point, if there needs to be one (there doesn’t).

The most striking thing, of course (other than the new songs and the rare appearance of an old song, “The Hitchhiker,” but I’ll get to that in a minute), was the solo electric. That’s just not done very much and, to my knowledge, not ever on stage by Neil.

It was strangely intimate. Everyone who is a serious fan (and by the feel of the audiences both nights it seems like the entire world loves him as much as I do; people were rushing the stage and screaming NEEEEEEEEIL!!!!!!!!!!! WE LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!) has imagined what it is like when Neil is just screwing around with Ol’ Black at home. (In case you don’t know, Ol’ Black is the name of Neil Young’s most oft used and now legendary electric guitar, an old Gibson Les Paul.)

And there he was! Just him and his electric guitar(s)? Holy Shit! It was thrilling. And the amazing but perhaps not that surprising thing is that Neil Young is so fucking cool he doesn’t even need a band to blow the roof off the place. As I exited the old Palace Theatre in Albany (built in 1931) and The Shea in Buffalo (built in 1926), I’m pretty sure I saw roofing trucks waiting out back to do some replacement work. They must have been tipped off that Neil was bringing Ol’ Black. What I’m trying to tell you, folks, is the sound was gigantic. HUGE. As it always is.

Which brings me to this: In addition to feeling strangely intimate, it also felt completely decadent. I mean, that is the part I listen for in any Neil Young + Anyone show! (That is also my favorite band, by the way. Neil Young + Anyone) That magic sound. And there it was! Just that! I didn’t have to listen for it, because it was ALL THAT. (It was all that.) It felt luxurious.

Neil Young’s long time collaborator and close friend, L.A. Johnson, passed away suddenly in January of this year (RIP LAJ). Certainly that left a big space in NY’s very small circle, a void. All I could think, seeing Neil alone up there with that electric guitar, was that. Void. He’s going in.

But the other thing it felt was lonely. And okay maybe I am finally getting somewhere now. Keep reading. Now don’t get me wrong. Like I said, NY doesn’t need a band, because his sound, and his songs, are The Thing. It didn’t sound like it was missing anything, it sounded like an entire freaking symphony, but it just… It was just a feeling. And Neil is master of evoking The Feeling. Now I hesitate to assume an artist’s intent, ever, for several reasons: it doesn’t matter (1), is really none of our business (2), and I’m usually wrong (3), but okay, I will.

Neil Young’s long time collaborator and close friend, L.A. Johnson, passed away suddenly in January of this year (RIP LAJ). Certainly that left a big space in NY’s very small circle, a void. All I could think, seeing Neil alone up there with that electric guitar, was that. Void. He’s going in.

And actually, from the very first song, which was acoustic, and the saddest, sweetest, most mournful sounding My My, Hey Hey you have ever heard, people, I felt it coming. He’s going in there, I thought. (Please File Under: But What The Fuck Do I Know.) But his voice! You know how he does. Then “Tell Me Why,” which if you’re now thinking about a sudden loss like that, after the first song sounding so forlorn, well, why why why, it always comes up, again and again. Why why why. Why him and not me? But now I’m getting too analytical. Someone stop me! (But “Helpless” was next, and he’s probably feeling he… Well, I’m just saying.) I swear I could practically see Larry watching from the wings as Neil fought with it, as he fought with that void.

A new beautiful song, plainspokenly about Larry: “You Never Call,” breaks your heart in the most beautiful way. A very personal, intimate tribute to a friend is what it sounded like to me. In fact it seemed so personal to me I felt like maybe I shouldn’t be listening. (But I did. Because, well, he was there, playing it. Plus the melody was just gorgeous.)

Okay wait. I said I wasn’t going to do the blow-by-blow. Back to overview. Old favorites! Down By The River, Ohio, After The Goldrush, Cortez, Cinnamon Girl!  Rarities: I Believe In You. HITCHHIKER!?!?! Yes. (Hitchhiker made me almost pass out on the first night, I swear to God.)

New songs! The new songs, all of them (seven of them) were KILLER. Absolutely KILLER. The thing about so many NY songs is that even his gentle songs have a bit of an edge to them (”am I lying to you when I say I believe in you?”), and even in his fierce rages, or his most brutal, it seems that tenderness peeks out from behind a curtain (think “a man needs a maid, just someone to fix my meals and go away,” turning to “when will i see you again?”.)

Which adds up to irresistible, because they’re so real. We all have both sides. Even Neil Young. These new songs included epic story-telling acoustic songs (he is a great storyteller) with beautiful riffs and melodies. A sweet, delicate piano song about “a new friend” called “Leia,” who is one and half. Raging, haunting electric songs, complete with feedback and spooky effects that make your (well, my) head spin and hair stand on end. “Sign of Love” is crrraaazzy good, it was a sign of love alright (”WE LOVE YOU NEEEEEEEIILLL!!!”). “Rumblin’,” and oh it rumbled, it brought the house down. And then there’s “Walk With Me,” which has, that most magical thing, The Spook.

Here’s the debut of “Walk With Me,” in Albany, the ending is a little cut off, as I recall, which is too bad, because it took you behind the curtain into the beautiful chaos just for a second, but here ya go:

Click on the graphic for the video.

So ANYWAY, I believe in you, Reader. But am I lying to you when I say that “Walk With Me” so blew my mind that finally I stood up, leapt into “par-corps” mode and climbed right over all the (many) rows of seats in front of me and hopped onto the stage yelling “I’ll walk with you Neil!”? (Subtle, eh?) It’s entirely possible that I pulled a Roberto Begnini (watch the first 30 seconds). Sometimes it is just so embarrassing to be me.

Sometimes, though… It isn’t. Sometimes it just feels amazing to love something or someone so much your heart feels like it’s about to break wide open, it’s so full. Like right now.

I can’t wait to do it all over again. Tonight’s the night.

Note: Karen Barry writes to you from the middle of a laundry pile and a sink full of dirty dishes somewhere in Connecticut. Right now she is probably letting the dogs out. Or in. She loves writing more than housecleaning, and music more than anything. Except her family, whom she drags with her now and then to concerts, mostly for the company, but also to keep them from changing the locks while she is gone.

  1. 2 Responses to “NEIL YOUNG’S TWISTED ROAD TOUR: STOPS 1 and 2”

  2. Yea yea yea! Neil Young does still have ‘it’ going on - we caught his taped shows at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, PA recently (which were released as director Jonathan Demme’s documentary “Neil Young Trunk Show”) and couldn’t stop talking about the shows for days afterwards! Thanks for the update and the recordings!

    By Adam Dean on May 24, 2010

  3. what happened to larry craig that it isn’t on this tour?

    By Cristian on May 25, 2010

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