Neil Being Neil: When Young Comes to Denver
Neil Young w/ Rick Rosas, Ben Keith, Ralph Molina, Anthony Crawford & Pegi Young
Wells Fargo Theater
Denver, CO 80305
Nov. 5, 2007
Acoustic Set: From Hank To Hendrix / Ambulance Blues / Sad Movies / A Man Needs A Maid / No One Seems To Know / Harvest / After The Gold Rush / Mellow My Mind / Love Art Blues / Love Is A Rose / Heart Of Gold
Electric Set: The Loner / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Dirty Old Man / Spirit Road / Bad Fog Of Loneliness / Winterlong / Oh, Lonesome Me / The Believer / No Hidden Path // Cinnamon Girl / Like A Hurricane
Mark Brown said it right in his review in The Rocky Mountain News: this was more a night for hard-core fans than newbies or the uninitiated.
The show, like many Young performances over the years, was divided into an acoustic and (mostly) electric set; the first was completely solo, the second employed a stripped-down band that included longtime stringman Ben Keith, Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Rick Rojas.
During the acoustic set, he wandered around the stage between various keyboards and guitars. If there were a period that Young seemed to be invoking, it was the 1970s. After opening with the relatively recent “From Hank to Hendrix” (1992), he played “Ambulance Blues,” “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Harvest,” “Love is a Rose,” “After the Gold Rush,” “Heart of Gold,” “Mellow My Mind” and the oft-bootlegged “Love Art Blues,” all songs from the period. To put a finer point on it, he added “Sad Movies” apparently written back then but rarely or not performed ‘til now.
Name anybody with a more effective finger-picking style or onstage acoustic sound than Young. For the rarely played “Ambulance Blues,” he made his antique acoustic Martin guitar wheeze and groan like an elderly man after walking up a long flight of stairs. It’s like the guitar is alive, a breathing part of the song. He picked up a banjo for the biggest surprise of the night. I expected to hear “For the Turnstiles,” the only Young song I know in which the banjo is dominant. Instead he reinvented the boozy “Mellow My Mind” as a eccentric bluegrass number.
The only real clunker was “A Man Needs a Maid,” which included one section that he played on piano and the other on organ. The organ overwhelmed the piano, and Young was straining for the high notes, which made it all a bit screechy on this particular night.
Watching him play the (mostly) electric set was as much fun as it always is. Dressed in a loosely fitting suit, he looked like a staggering marionette, careening around the stage like the guitar was leading him. Opening the set was “The Loner,” the first electric Neil song I ever heard and the best moment of the night here, with Ben Keith adding slide guitar flourishes that danced beneath Young’s stuttering lead outbursts.
During this set, he added the non-descript “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” a surprising, rocking “Winterlong” and his slowly grinding cover of “Lonesome Me,” all again from that mid-70s period. There were times when the band didn’t seem in sync. That isn’t necessarily a problem with a Young set – it’s what often makes him and Crazy Horse worth watching — but Ben Keith looked to the side of the stage in exasperation a couple of times.
Except for the rollicking “Dirty Old Man,” the new Chrome Dreams songs, “Spirit Road,” “The Believer” and the finale, a long, into-the-wild version of “No Hidden Path,” seemed slight. Encores were perfunctory: short takes of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like a Hurricane.” I have seen times when Young seemed locked in mortal combat with his guitar. I didn’t feel that tonight.
The only gimmick for this downscaled show was an easel placed stage left upon which a painter exchanged paintings that represented the songs the band was playing throughout the electric set. He seemed to be working very hard just to keep up. Just a guess, but I’ll bet the second night in Denver went more smoothly.