Tuesday, November 27th, 2007
Like A Hurricane
Neil Young. Massey Hall.
Those four words right there should be all you need to know to understand how amazing last night’s show, the first of a three-night stand, was. Touring Chrome Dreams II, Young returned to play the legendary Toronto venue for the first time in almost 37 years for what was certain to be a special night. For me, this was only my second time seeing Neil, the last time some 11 years ago at Molson Park on a bill that was the very definition of eclectic – Neil with Crazy Horse, Oasis, Jewel, Gin Blossoms, Spiritualized and Screaming Trees. And since that was in a field with a throng of 30,000 others, I don’t think I actually SAW Neil though I certainly saw (and felt) him. But however you slice it, this show – with me in the front row of the gallery – was going to be infinitely more intimate.
After an opening set of well-played if rather innocuous country tunes by the missus, Pegi Young, Neil strode onstage to a standing ovation, settled into his chair ringed by acoustic guitars and started up with “From Hank To Hendrix” and from there, went into “Ambulance Blues” – one of my favourite songs from my favourite album (On The Beach) and if you ended the show right there, I’d have been satisfied. But of course, it’s easy to say that when he played acoustically for a good hour, dusting off one classic after another including “Harvest”, “Journey Through The Past” and “Cowgirl In The Sand”. And perhaps touched by the warm hometown reception, he uncharacteristically engaged the audience in a little banter and storytelling.
There was no time for chit chat after the 20-minute intermission, however, as he returned to the stage with a band comprised of long-time collaborators Ben Keith (Stray Gators), Rick Rosas and Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse). Electricity was the word for the second half of the show, both in the sense of the electric guitars that were now setting the tone and the energy in the sold out room. The crowd went nuts when he opened with “The Loner”, and nuts again when he followed it with “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, and nuts yet again when he stopped after a few bars to get some feedback taken care of and started again. And so it went. Personal highlights were hearing “Winterlong” and watching as “No Hidden Path”, from Chrome Dreams II, was transformed into a classic of the Neil Young canon in front of my eyes, Neil and company jamming the hell out of it and simply blowing the roof off the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street. Simply staggering.
And they still weren’t done. If “No Hidden Path” took the roof off, then the encore of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like A Hurricane” shook the walls down to the foundations with intense, face-melting guitar fury. Massey Hall’s wonderful acoustics are usually put to use preserving the detail of quieter, more delicate material but when faced with Old Black cranked through that ancient tweed Fender Deluxe, they allowed every squeal, snarl and roar to be heard with amazing clarity. More than a few times over the course of the night I broke into a shit-eating grin as I realized that I was seeing one of my all-time musical heroes in a setting that I’d never in a million years have thought I’d get the chance to and this is a night whose memory I’ll cherish a good long time.
There’s an inclination to think of this tour, coinciding as it does with the slow release of the Archives, as Neil shifting into greatest hits/nostalgia mode. And while yeah, he’s definitely revisiting his past in a way that he’s never done before, anyone who interprets that as him slowing down is sadly, sadly mistaken. There’s still an ungodly amount of fire in the man and if anything, what he’s taking from the past is more fuel for the future. Long may you run, Neil. Long may you run.
Photos: Neil Young, Pegi Young @ Massey Hall – November 26, 2007
MP3: Neil Young – “Ordinary People”
MySpace: Neil Young