In 2010 Neil Young released Le Noise, his solo collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois (get it? Lanois…La-Nois…Le Noise). Lanois had built an electric guitar packed full of built-in effects specifically for Neil to use on the record and I absolutely loved the results. When I heard Neil was touring the album I jumped at the chance to see him play a show at what is arguably his home venue, the storied Massey Hall on May 10th, 2011.
Leave it to Neil Young to book folk legend Bert Jansch (1943-2011) to open the show – a classy pairing that would prove to be one of Bert’s last tours. Outside of the folk world Jansch is a somewhat obscure figure, though one of his recordings is quite well known, once removed. He not-so-famously recorded a song called Black Waterside that Jimmy Page copied note-for-note and released with his bandmates Led Zeppelin under the dubiously disguised title Black Mountain Side. Jansch’s set on this night was reflective, brilliantly played, and very well received by a respectful audience.
For much of the rest of the evening Neil Young stood alone on stage with the guitar Dan had built. He played the entire Le Noise album utilizing every effect that guitar had to offer, notably an octaver that lowered his bottom string two octaves. When Neil dialled in the right setting and hit his open E string the entire building shook. Just on the threshold of human hearing, these bottomed out frequencies were felt more than they were heard; Massey Hall itself vibrated enharmonically along with Neil and we could all feel it. Dust and bits of plaster were falling from the ceiling.
Neil Young was literally playing Massey Hall and it was nothing short of glorious. In fact, I might classify this as my most enjoyable Neil Young concert ever. I mean it was just constant musical bliss that deserved to never end.
And oh my, the sound! Whether playing acoustically or fully drenched in thick electric distortion clarity was constant. The pianos sounded great too and what a treat it was when Neil sat down at the pump organ. The crowd was a little screamy and stupid, but such is people. Neil seems to be almost used to it and acted oblivious, preferring instead short conversations with the old wooden Indian that Neil tends to have on stage with him.
In addition to his new material Neil served up a good pile of his classics; many of which underwent substantial rearrangements, all of which were utterly brilliant. Neil is one of those artists that offers up what he wants when he wants. This disappoints a lot of people that might be at their first and only Neil Young concert hoping to hear Heart Of Gold or Harvest Moon and instead are served up a twenty-five minute version of Cortez The Killer, but not me. With Neil I’m always willing to go along for the ride. He plays with such utter and bombastic conviction that I’m drawn in no matter what he’s dishing out. As long as Neil keeps playing with his youthful vigour the shows will always be great or better, and you’ll always find me there.
This was one of a pair of shows at Massey Hall* that were filmed by the late Jonathan Demme who put them together into a really interesting concert movie called Neil Young Journeys. Check it out, turn it up, and see if Neil can make your living room shake.
*The last time Neil played this room m’lady and I shelled out top dollar for all three nights, which ended up sharing very similar setlists. This time we opted for just the first night and we both regretted it. I would have been thrilled to watch Neil play exactly the same set in exactly the same room for a second consecutive night, even at $150; easy. I would have sat rapt, riveted in euphoric joy and still wanting moremoremore at the end.
Hot damn, it was just so good.