Last night Paul and I went to see Neil Young. And while he is the one who blogs about concerts and albums (really, if you haven’t read him he’s a very thorough reviewer!), I have to write about this. Neil Young is one of my all time favorite musicians. My three very favorite bands/musicians are The Beatles, Pearl Jam, and Neil Young. I have seen Paul McCartney in concert, but of course the Beatles are long gone, leaving Pearl Jam and Neil Young as the two acts that were at the top of my “I’d love to see them before I die but probably never will” concert list. I just assumed that tickets would always be too impossible or expensive or impractical to get. But! Wonderful Paul leapt on this October date as soon as it was announced and surprised me this summer by coming home with tickets to it. I’ve been looking forward to it since then. And he lived up to every hope I had. Here we are right before we started. Apparently the guy who took our picture wasn’t familiar with phone photography and it’s crazy blurry, but you can see we are excited!
The show was at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia. I’ve never been there before and man, what a beautiful venue. Gorgeous ceiling, paintings, and statues and a spectacular chandelier.
It’s stunning. And steep.
We were in the extreme top section, which was exhausting to walk to. But overall the theater feels tight and close, so even though we were high up we weren’t that far away from the stage. The view was good, the sound was great.
We had a lovely parking and ample time experience, which was nice. I really had been antsy and excited all day. Walking to the theater and standing next to his tour bus-a beautiful chrome affair with a “Zuma” license plate was super exciting.
So, the show. First of all, I had somewhat deliberately avoided finding out exactly what this tour is. Neil can do lots of different things, and while I knew he wasn’t touring with Crazy Horse, I really didn’t know what he was going to play. This was a solo acoustic show and he played so many classic great songs, plus several I didn’t know. The funny thing about the ones I didn’t know was that they were so beautiful and sounded so Neil, that I wasn’t even really aware of not knowing them. Usually at a concert when the band plays a new-to-me number it’s always a little weird, but not here. The stage contained: 8 guitars, 1 banjo, 2 pianos, 1 organ, and several harmonicas (or, if we’re being fancy, mouth organs.) There was also a nice carpet, a totem pole (or carved Indian figure, a little hard to tell), a big tomahawk (I didn’t know that’s what it was, but an article tells me so), and nicely glowing candles on top of the pianos. Oh, the organ had a tree stump for a stool.
Neil came out (looking exactly as you’d expect) and sat down and opened right up with From Hank to Hendrix. What can I say? It was an extremely moving moment for me. His voice was crystal clear, sounded amazing and unchanged, and I really like that song but didn’t think he’d play it. Yes, I got teary!! Hearing him in person was really all I thought it would be. It was just him, walking around the stage, picking up instruments and playing, engaging in the audience in a warm way. And the audience! Some people did keep yelling out “I love you Neil!” “You’re the best” but when he sang I have never heard such a reverent silence in a theater before. There were a few songs where people (including myself) couldn’t help but sing along–but it was all super quietly and softly. Side note: this theater had a great opening announcement which included “out of respect for the artist and those around you, please don’t call out song titles.” Most people did not, except for this one guy who kept shouting “Here to You.” Paul and I were like “what is that song? I’ve never heard of it.” It turns out it is actually a song I really like that I just didn’t know was called that. It’s from the Prairie Wind album, which I really like, but did not expect him to play anything off of.
On the Way Home–the second song he played, again I teared up at hearing a song I knew and loved being sung in person. Interestingly, I didn’t actually know the name of this song (as is the case with a lot of songs, for example in my head “Harvest” is “Promise of a Man”)
Harvest–An incredible highlight.
Pocahontas-Again, I got teary. I love this song and did not expect him to play it. When I met my baby niece for the very first time and held her I sang this song to her because it was the first thing I thought of. Neil updated a few lines-instead of “Marlon Brando, Pocahontas, and me” he sang “Barack Obama, Pocahontas, and me” and changed Hollywood to Washington, D.C.
Heart of Gold-this was gorgeous. I expected him to play it and he did not disappoint
Old Man–I had just listened to Live at Massey Hall the day before, in which he introduces this as “a new song I just wrote”. So interesting to hear that when he was a young man writing those lines about the old man, and now as he sang it he is clearly the old man himself.
Southern Man and Ohio–Although these are absolutely huge hits, I was surprised he played these
Harvest Moon–I hoped he would play this, but wasn’t sure if he would (though really, if you’re picking Hank to Hendrix off this album, why wouldn’t you also play this?) Absolutely beautiful, I love this song. Only slightly marred by the yahoos in front of us who kept calling out for it and then were beside themselves when he did play it and talked and snapped through the whole thing in a weird way.
After the Gold Rush-Practically haunting it was so gorgeous. Another lyric change-instead of “look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s” he sang “in the 21st century.”
Man Needs a Maid–this is not one of my favorite songs and I wasn’t psyched he played it, however it was interesting to hear with just him solo. He also had a keyboard added on top of his piano to get the segment that is loud and organy, which was neat to see how one person created this huge sound.
I knew he wouldn’t play Winterlong or Cowgirl in the Sand, which are super favorites and I would love to hear, but would not be songs he’d do solo/acoustic. I did think he’d play Long May You Run and Needle on the Damage Done, but don’t mind at all that he didn’t. I did hold out hope for Silver and Gold, which also would have made me cry, but he played nothing off that album. The encore was a slight letdown for me because though it’s an old song, it wasn’t one I’m really familiar with–Thrasher.
It was incredible experience. It did have a feeling of sitting in his living room and passing the evening listening to him play just a whole bunch of his favorite songs. A very grand, ornate living room with hundreds of other people, but it still had a very intimate feel. One of the things I’ve admired about him is what a good musician he is. And it was so evident watching him move from instrument to instrument, and sing, play harmonica, and play piano all at once. Also, I never really realized what a great piano player he is and it was a pleasure to see it.
XPN’s The Key has a great write up this morning with the full set list. And be sure to check out Paul’s p.o.v. (and his photos of the set, I’m sure) when he gets it up.
So, dream come true. Fully lived up to my expectations. An amazing evening.