021810 Neil Young Tribute, Vancouver, BC

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February 18th, 2010 was just packed.

After attending our first Vancouver 2010 Olympic event, a noon-hour men’s hockey game that saw the star-studded American team defeat the Norwegians by a score of 6-1 (followed by a nostalgic dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory) m’lady and I cooled our heels in Gastown and watched the Canadian hockey team almost lose to Switzerland on three different television sets in three separate bars and/or coffeeshops. 

(Glancing around the Starbucks I noticed that every table held a unique nationality of people.  The place was jammed with group after group of people from any number of different countries and they all seemed so excited to be in Vancouver.  The Olympics are fun, I’ll tell you that.)

As evening approached we made our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for a show billed as Hal Willner’s Neil Young Project.  This was the first of two nights for this one-off project (oxymoron intended), a congregation of eclecticity under the helm of an equally eclectic record producer best known for directing tribute concerts to an incomparably eclectic string of artists that includes Tim Buckley, Randy Newman, Bill Withers, Walt Disney and the Marquis de Sade.

We grabbed a drink and got seated in the balcony just before the lights went down.  There were a million microphones set up on the beautiful MTV Unplugged-esque stage and when things got underway we were treated to a unique and wonderful show that bounced between the dramatically under-rehearsed to the gaspingly poignant.  The biggest treats included Emily Haines’ version of Man Needs A Maid, the surprise inclusion of Elvis Costello and everything he was part of, Lou Reed singing the exceptionally well-chosen Helpless, and the texture of having up to twenty-one musicians onstage at once just going for it; it was a real special treat. 

With a show that can only be something of a throw-together of course there were going to be clunkers, most notably on this evening when some woman who’s name mercifully escapes me sang After The Gold Rush in a voice that accurately mimicked Miss Piggy (my favourite Neil Young song sung by my least favourite muppet…take a moment and imagine it if you dare) but other than being heavy on the mellow side it was a great show.

And then at the end of the show they announced the setbreak, which really surprised me.  All the announced artists had played and after almost two hours they had tied things up with a mass-singalong, and it had all turned out being just the first set.  After the shortest of breaks all the artists came back for another round in a set that was much higher in energy and more than doubled what was already an unforgettable show.  

I assume the second night was probably even better, but one thing is for sure: there was no way they would be playing exactly the same both nights.  The whole show had bordered on improv as every player of the night stood firmly on their toes and kept their eyes scanning for every chord change, which was pretty fun to watch.

It’s funny to think that in our Olympic ticket bundle we had pulled tickets to the medal ceremony/Hedley concert for this night.  There’s certainly no question in my mind that we made the right decision selling those tickets in favour of these.

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