Sunday, May 30, 2010

Old Black Solo

“Old Black, a 1953 Gibson Les Paul plugged into a 1959 Fender Deluxe. The guitar came from Jim Messina, who found the instrument’s monstrous sound uncontrollable. Young bought the Deluxe for approximately fifty bucks in 1967. As Young told writer Jas Obrecht, he ‘took it home, plugged in the Gretsch guitar and the entire room immediately started to vibrate…I went ‘Holy Shit!’ I turned it halfway down before it stopped feeding back.’ The Les Paul/Deluxe combo, which remains the cornerstone of his sound, would make its thunderous debute in Young’s music on his very first record with Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” – Jimmy McDonough, Shakey, page 298

Jennifer and I treated ourselves last night to catching
Neil Young’s Twisted Road Tour live at the Fox in Atlanta. About two months ago, thanks to a heads up from some friends in Atlanta a few hours after the concert was announced, we were forced to slave ourselves through the monopoly of Ticketmaster and secure tickets for a mere $125 each about 30 rows from the stage. Neil is definitely pricey when he comes to town.

The last time we saw Neil was back in
2006 when he toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Awesome concert where the band preformed (some particularly amazing acoustical stuff) two, massive 90 minute sets. Since then Neil has added two new studio records to his body of work, along with the first volume of his huge personal archives collection, and several other featured recordings. He toured extensively in 2008 with great new electric rock material, but he never came south. I will get to see that tour, however, whenever the Neil Young Trunk Show DVD comes out. At 64, this guy is still kicking ass.

He was at the top of his game in a presentation and form that I had never heard from him before, though I own all his albums and probably 60 bootlegs of various kinds of Neil and his music. In his career Neil has been and recurrently returns to pure country, folk, blues, rock, grunge, and even jazz on one album. But, Neil live has always been something a bit different from the slicker studio stuff.

Last night was no exception.

Before the concert, however, Jennifer and I decided to make Atlanta a mini-adventure trip. We went down early, had dinner at the locally famous
Mary Mac’s Tea Room. I haven’t had tea that sweet since my grandmother died. Great grilled trout and fresh vegetables though. Then we drove several blocks to the Fox, early for the show. We found a wonderful outdoor front table at the historic Georgian Terrace Hotel immediately across the Peachtree Street. Only people from around here really understand the significance of the Peachtree Street in Atlanta. It seems to be the mother for a third of Atlanta’s other street names. Many Peachtrees in the grammar of an Atlanta roadmap.

It was perfect out. Very cloudy, humid but with a cool breeze. I had two
Glenlivets and Jennifer enjoyed a Crown Royal. Everything on the rocks. They have Neil singing Beautiful Bluebird among other acousticals in the hotel sound system. There is considerable traffic. It is one of the most congested spots in Atlanta, just two lanes each for north and southbound traffic that are fed by larger, much more efficient by volume widening of the roads a few blocks from this area. The street here is no wider now than it was when Song of the South premiered in 1946. There was nothing close to an accident occurring though. Everything is orderly here due to the very low speed limit.

Jennifer and I got a nice buzz, talked and laughed while watching the very modern urban people and traffic at the corner of Peachtree and
Ponce de Leon Avenue. The early summer sun was defused by the heavy clouds. You can see it in the haze of the pics accompanying this post. But it didn’t rain on us. It was nice.

Then we crossed to the concert, again early. A casual checkout of the wonderful Fox entrance and main lobby area. The restrooms in the Fox have a tremendous luxury. They are true lounges. The spacious, nicely appointed Turkish-style sitting room is larger than the restrooms themselves. It is truly extravagant. After you come out of the washroom you could comfortably sit in the lounge and enjoy a glass of wine.

We went for the beer though, right after doing the consumer groupie thing and scarfing up t-shirts and a program that were all overpriced but very convenient and as authentic as you can get. We enjoyed watching the influx of people into the great Fox lobby. The activity picked up considerably and we went to find our seats in row BB.

Bert Jansch opened and was folksy and bluesy. I went to the men's lounge about 20 minutes into his performance. He wasn’t bad. We chatted off and on with a couple from Birmingham sitting next to us. They had the same story as Jennifer and I do. He was a fan of Neil all his adult life. She loved Neil but had only been listening to him the last ten years or so. She was enthusiastic during the performance.

Neil follows a 25 minute intermission. By now the Fox is packed and the audience is highly attentive and excited. It’s Neil worship time. Though the majority of the crowd is over 50 there are many younger people there. Some young chick behind us yelled “I want to do your laundry!” several times at one point. It was nice to be with 3,000 like minded people about an artistic experience.

That’s what this was. It was Neil solo but not Neil acoustic. Although it certainly started out that way. All his career Neil has split his live shows in half. The first half was always acoustic and piano stuff. The second half was always the loud, rocking, Old Black Neil. It gave the audience a full appreciation for the subtitles of the soft Neil while allowing yourself to let go to the rocking Neil.

There are many different Neils.

He opened with My, My, Hey, Hey from Rust Never Sleeps in 1979. I remember the first time I sat the needle down on this song. It was literally a couple of days after the album came out. I bought it my sophomore year in college. It is the first song of side one, the acoustic side. It sounded so great right from the beginning back then, and still now, especially live, to an audience loudly applauding the opening chords as they are played in the Fox.

Neil had two acoustic guitars, one of which was amped. He played some
brand new material on it. It sounded awesome. Love and War was a highlight. The solo fingering, the tune itself, and the lyrics, biting. Very hot new stuff. Peaceful Valley was the best of the new material, I thought. I’m looking forward to his next album. In addition to the acoustics, Neil played on an upright piano, a baby grand, and a pump organ. On the upright he played a new, minimalist song he just wrote called Leia. I like that song. On the baby grand it was I Believe in You, which the audience applauded for at points during and continuously after, loud and long.

On the organ he performed After the Gold Rush and the crowd exploded with its loudest appreciation so far in the evening. The changed lyric “look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century” symbolized how relevant Neil’s original music remains and got a lot of applause, many perhaps thinking of the tragic
Gulf Oil spill.

Neil also had two electric guitars, both famous. The White Falcon and
Old Black. Hearing Old Black solo made the concert special for me. He performed Down By The River on it and Jennifer actually teared up. Old Black vibed the vast performance hall and we felt the guitar in our chests and the arms of our seats. Have you ever seen a solo performance of nothing but an overamped electric guitar from 1953? It doesn’t happen that often and, to my knowledge, it has never happened with Old Black, the guitar that Neil rocks you with on most of his best metal songs.

Old Black carried Neil through The Hitchiker, a long-known unrecorded song. Hearing it live and (for the first time) electric was a real treat. Then he sat the guitar down on-stage briefly. He just let it sit there and reverb into the audience for about another 30 seconds while he walked around on stage drinking bottled water. Shades of grungy Neil. The crowd adored it.

Unlike the acoustic guitars, Neil didn’t allow Old Black to remain on stage when he wasn’t using it. A crew member always came and carried it off. They brought it back for the last portion of the concert. He did an amazing version of
Cortez the Killer solo on Old Black. At times the song wasn’t recognizable except for the lyrics he was singing, but oh how it sounded on the guitar by itself was unique for me and wonderful. Old Black creates a space unto itself. I knew I would probably never hear Old Black played publicly like this again. Neil might bring the guitar back out on future tours, for future solo rocking but it won’t be for a solo tour I bet. Old Black will always be, as it has always been, accompanied by a band.

Cinnamon Girl closed out the show, again on Old Black, with most of the crowd clapping the beat. Hands and guitar rocked the place. It became a sing-a-long when he got to the “Mom send me money…” part. Then he ripped off a lead and much of the audience screamed. It was Neil worship.

In the end Neil still knows how to rock a place, even solo. Jennifer told me this morning she had no regrets about the outrageous amount of money we blew on the evening. I felt the same way, mostly for the Old Black solo appearance, though we both wish he had played a little longer than 80 minutes for our money. Three more acoustic numbers at the end wouldn’t have worn him out and it would have made me fully satisfied.

Still, how many more times am I going to see this guy live? As one older gentleman in the audience told us during intermission, “You got to catch these old guys when they get around.”

A highlight for me in the Now. Thanks Neil.

Evidence of Neil. Jennifer snapped this pic of the back of Neil's bus parked outside the Fox Theatre. The significant connection of Zuma and Lincvolt would be known only to true rusties.

Historic marker in front of the Hotel across from the Fox.

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