by The Spin
That effect was primarily the result of Neil Young’s captivating charisma, gift for casting spells with the most subtle of gestures, unmatched ability to both haunt and uplift with his guitar and vocal stylings, and enigmatic presence that’s impossible to turn your eyes from. A setlist that — despite having no selections from Harvest Moon — kept you on the edge of your pew didn’t hurt either. The other contributor to the eerie atmosphere in our minds was the effect caused by a little parking lot pastime we indulged in before hitting Lower Broad. We’ll just say that our eyes were a bit bigger than our lungs, and that Lower Broad isn’t necessarily the ideal place to try and keep the weed demons at bay. After taking brief psychological refuge at Robert’s, we confronted our crippling paranoia and set off on the terrifying one-block journey up to The Ryman.
After surviving the harrowing ordeal of procuring our press passes from will-call with straight faces and braving the classy crowd who we’re convinced all “knew,” we took our pew-assignments just in time to see the house lights fade, masking our juvenilia from the sold-out crowd as their attention was swiftly diverted by revered British folkie Bert Jansch, who serenaded all us bookish rock aficionados in attendance with his loopy finger-picking and moody melodies. All but one that is, as some asshole in the balcony — apparently unfamiliar with the concepts of an opening act and basic social conduct — started tactlessly heckling Jansch, protesting his performance by shouting something along the lines of, “Neeeeill, we payed to see Neeeiillll.” Seriously. Who comes to such an event to act so egregiously dickish? The dude probably freaked and demanded a refund when he realized this wasn’t a Crazy Horse show. Hopefully he got a DUI on his way home. Deutsch.
Normally when The Spin bumps the kind of meditative ambient folk that is Jansch’s stock in trade, it’s while taking a hot bath with Nag Champa burning and nothing but Botanica candles to illuminate the room, but we’ll settle for the sanctimonious serenity of the Mother Church.
Luckily those around the feral heckler managed to shhh him before he harshed our mellow too hard, as we were expected to be on our best behavior. After all, Neil Young shows harken back to the days of long attention spans, with an absolute prohibition of cellphone use in any form — meaning talking, texting, sexting, Scrabble, tweeting or anything else done on a PDA could result in your ejection.
Clad in iconic “Godfather of grunge” garb — bell-bottom jeans, T-shirt, flannel and straw-hat — Young appeared out of the shadows as the lights went down and briefly basked in the appreciative roar and scattered “I love you Neeeiiilll” proclamations from the crowd before seating himself, nestling a six-string on his thigh and — without a word — striking the opening chords of “Hey, Hey, My, My,” to which our reaction was “Fuck, Fuck, Yeah, Yeah.” As he followed that up with hair-raising versions of “Tell Me Why” and a gorgeous “Helpless,” we pinched ourselves and reveled in a great song’s ability to transcend time and space.
Over the course of the next couple of hours Young moved between various onstage stations, switching from acoustic guitar to pump organ to piano to grand piano — which was used for a whopping one song — and, to the crowd’s delight, standing at center stage to rock out on electric guitar. He only spoke to the crowd two or three times throughout the show, but every slight movement he made — under the cloak of lighting that made him look like a farmer’s ghost — was taken by the crowd as a grand gesture. This created a solitary and unsettling vibe — especially when he’d rumble our bowels with stark bass notes on the acoustic and piercing wails on his many harmonicas — the tension of which was released every time he’d chime in with the opening notes of something like “After the Goldrush,” with soothing reassurance. It was a show that you felt more than listened to or watched.
Even though we were expecting it, we couldn’t help but get constant chills by the strength of the 64 year-old Young’s voice — which sounded sweet, somber, vulnerable, authoritative and strong as ever. Seriously, you could’ve pit last night’s vocal performance against that of the famed 1971 BBC concert in a Pepsi challenge and easily fooled the most consummate of Young fans.
The show did hit a snag or two, sometimes with one too many sedate acoustic numbers in a row, but the vibe was never compromised enough to inspire a smoke or piss break, and we remained transfixed long after our buzz wore off.
While the show’s moody moments were unspeakably gripping, Young was at his best when it came time to rock. He was able to unleash so much cathartic cacophony and infernal sonic fury when attacking his electric guitar on bloodthirsty rockers like “Down by the River,” “Ohio,” a mind-blowing “Cortez the Killer,” and “Cinnamon Girl,” that we didn’t even notice there wasn’t a band backing him up.
Tuesday night’s show yielded polarizing responses, with some calling it canned and boring, but with a majority singing its high praises. Well if that show was anything like last night’s, we’ll side with the latter, and go a step further to say that the show we saw was truly an emotional experience — if you didn’t get off on it then you’re either not a big fan ... or too big a fan to see the forest through the trees.