Neil Young | 11.05 | Denver

Words by: Tim Dwenger

Neil Young :: 11.05.07 :: Wells Fargo Theatre :: Denver, CO

Neil Young
When I walked into the Denver Convention Center, home of the Wells Fargo Theatre, the prophetic words that Neil Young first sang in 1979 immediately came to mind. That mantra, as it has become to many, of "it's better to burn out than to fade away" has followed Young throughout his career, but upon gazing on the absolutely characterless atrium outside the theater I began to wonder if this legend was fading away or just becoming someone very different from the man who wrote those words so many years ago.

I have been fortunate enough to see Young several times in my life at some great venues including Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado and Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Upstate New York. In each instance, before Young even took the stage, there was electricity in the air that was completely missing at the Wells Fargo Theatre. Several things contributed to this - the sterile atmosphere, the inescapable fact that it was a Monday night, absolutely no drinks were allowed into the theatre and the militant way the heavy theatre doors were guarded during each song to prevent anyone from entering the hall until there was a break in the music. Suffice it to say that The Wells Fargo Theater and its incredibly strict policies sucked much of the rock show energy from the crowd before they even took their seats.

At the stroke of 8:30, Young walked out to a standing ovation. I was able to catch a glimpse of him before an usher secured the doors, turned around and had the unenviable job of telling about 40 hardcore Neil Young fans who had shelled out between $80 and $150 dollars per seat that they had to wait in the lobby while Young opened the show with the Harvest Moon gem "From Hank to Hendrix."

Neil Young
As the last muffled notes passed through the heavy doors we were finally allowed to enter the cavernous room. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw that there in the center of a tremendous stage sat Neil Young flanked by a semi-circle of acoustic instruments. Dressed in a slightly rumpled, light colored suit he was returning one guitar to its stand and reaching for another as we latecomers struggled to find out seats.

As we got settled and the crowd quieted, Young began a foray into the '70s, that lasted for nearly an hour, delicately picking out the melancholy introduction to the 1974 classic "Ambulance Blues" from his legendary On The Beach album. The line "you're all just pissing in the wind" drew one of the most enthusiastic reactions of the evening. The diehards in the crowd were then treated to "Sad Movies," the first of three unreleased songs from his prolific '70s sessions that Young played at this show.

He then picked himself up out of his chair and purposefully walked over to a grand piano on the right side of the stage. On top of the piano sat a synthesizer and Young utilized both in a rare and haunting performance of "A Man Needs a Maid" from 1972's Harvest. As Young moved through the acoustic portion of the evening, he took occasional pulls on a beer bottle and ran through "Harvest," "Love Is A Rose" and several other more obscure selections.

Neil Young
The highlight of the hour-long set came about 40 minutes in when Young took the stool at the upright piano for a truly moving version of the sparse, tender "After The Goldrush." He voice was in top form and the passion that seeped through the performance proved yet again that this is a man who has no intention of fading away. He tipped his hat to the state of the world today, and got a huge reaction when he adapted "Look at Mother Nature on the run in 1970s" to "Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century."

Young then returned to center stage and surprised everyone when he aborted "Love Art Blues" a few bars in, choosing instead to pluck out "Mellow My Mind" on the banjo, saying, "I'll get to that one a little later." Five minutes later Young played the song uninterrupted before the country blues of "Love Is a Rose" picked up the mood a bit.

Young closed the set with the massive crossover hit "Heart of Gold." While it is a song that has truly stood the test of time and a great choice for a closer, what made the most lasting impression during this first set was the way his high tenor transported me back in time as he sang of the archer splitting the tree during "After The Goldrush." When the last notes of "Heart Of Gold" had faded away, Young stood up, waved and headed into the wings to gather himself for the electric portion of the evening.

After a brief break, Young took the stage with longtime friends Ben Keith (guitar), Rick Rosas (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums). The old cohorts brought the crowd to their feet when they launched headlong into "The Loner." The audience remained standing as a painter working in the back placed a canvas on the right edge of the stage with the words "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" paired with an abstract scene. The painter worked as the band played, and replaced the canvases on the easel before each song, an artistic way of introducing them without spoken words.

Neil Young by Tony Stack
In sharp contrast to the acoustic set, the electric set introduced the audience to several songs from Young's recent Chrome Dreams II. The band raged through "Dirty Old Man" and "Spirit Road" early on before returning to the '70s for a trio of songs about abandonment and loneliness - "Bad Fog of Loneliness," "Winterlong" and "Oh, Lonesome Me."

They closed with two more songs from Chrome Dreams II, "The Believer" and the 15-minute long bit of trademark ragged glory that is "No Hidden Path," which again brought the audience to their feet as Young stomped around, coaxing beautiful distortion saturated screams from his electric guitar, proudly displaying the type of playing that earned him the title "The Godfather of Grunge."

When Young and his bandmates returned for a two song encore they dipped back into the hits and brought a nostalgic smile to many faces as they wailed on "Cinnamon Girl" and a monstrous rendition of "Like a Hurricane" that proved once and for all that despite the choice of venue Neil Young isn't about to fade away, and he sure doesn't appear to be burning out just yet.

Set 1 (Acoustic): 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
Set 2 (Electric): 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
Encore (Electric): Cinnamon Girl, Like A Hurricane

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[Published on: 11/15/07]

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aaronjl1 starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/15/2007 04:32PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Rust Never Sleeps!

Tim, just wondering... did ben keith play any dobro or slide, or did he just stick to the rhythm part?

rustfinger Thu 11/15/2007 04:49PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


saw him in chicago the other night! great show and amazing that neil still can play his ass off. the chicago theatre had the same door policy so my theory is maybe neil didn't want to get distracted by the doors always opening and closing. also got to see him play an acoustic cowgirl in the sand, so that made my night. the ending was great too with a guy dressed as a sultan banging on a gong while the band played some old song from neil's first band The Squiers, that was pretty entertaining! overall great show

I_Drink_It_Up starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/15/2007 07:36PM
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Neil is the greatest. Wish he was coming down south.

aaronjl1 Fri 11/16/2007 12:34AM
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why doesn't neil come down south anymore at all??? i've had to got to both nyc and chicago to catch him the past few tours. i mean it was great to hear him open with "walking to new orleans" in chi-town 2 weeks after katrina, but it be nice if he paid old fats (or his city) a visit every now and then...

marathonjd starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/16/2007 08:11AM
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Excellent review. I agree about the Wells Fargo Theater, great acoustics but they took themselves way too seriously...if historic places like the Chicago Theater and Warner Theater allow drinks inside, why can't this place? They wouldn't even allow bottled water purchased on premisis inside. Perfect word for it....sterile. Neil Young sounds as good as ever, however, and the show was a thrill, every bit of it. Lovely, engrossing acoustic first set and loud, crunchy electric second set. "A Man Needs a Maid" was freakin' amazing. Great show by a singular performer.

delete_me165 Fri 11/16/2007 08:17AM
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Just an FYI, I spoke w/ the security guards at the theater and it was NEIL'S RULES that didn't allow anyone in the theater except during breaks in the songs. Not sure about the booze....

petemora starstarstarstar Fri 11/16/2007 08:52AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Snafunk is correct. When Neil plays solo acoustic (as in the first set) there's no walking around, at the Paramount in NYC he asked for no drinking(!), and no cell phones allowed. Neil, I love you, but you are not Andres Segovia.

mhalpin70 starstar Fri 11/16/2007 08:52AM
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Neil Youngs first set was amazing!! Wasn't too thrilled with the second, very orchestrated. But the rules about no drinking and not being able to come back in until the doors were shut were dissappointing. I thought this was a concert. People were actually yelling at others who were dancing(isn't that the whole point of a show, to get up and boogie?) I love Neil but he needs to get over himself. Charging that much for tickets, made a weird vibe. People in suits sitting in the front, very little energy. Unfortunatly I will take pass next time.

snappy Fri 11/16/2007 09:17AM
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The money thing is nothing new with Neil Young. Love his music, admire him as an artist like few others but the whole giant, bloated rock star excess thing got a major kick start from this guy. The first Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young stadium tour in the early '70s was the first time a band had separate limos for each guy, helicopters flying them into gigs, etc. The dude had multiple houses and a ranch before he was 25. Young likes money.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/16/2007 09:49AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

yeah. He NEEDS to play THE FOX in atlanta!! on a friday or saturday night please!!!!!

keithrichardsforpres Fri 11/16/2007 01:02PM
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Saw him in Chicago - probably the best show I've seen this year. Re: Snappy's comment, he's dead on. Neil was the first guy who decided in the 70s that he was going to take 90% of the door, if the promoter didn't like the deal, Neil didn't care and would just skip to the next town that would pay him that, it started the ball rolling with the exorbitant ticket prices and promoters really getting bullied by musicians/agents. If I recall correctly Bill Graham wouldn't stand for it and stopped booking him for years. Genius musician, greedy business man.

purple starstarstarstar Fri 11/16/2007 01:16PM
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I'm a huge Neil fan and love seeing him play acoustic. I uderstand the door policy because it's a very quiet intimate concert feel even in theaters. However when he tours with a band and rocks out like the 2nd set of this show I think there shouldn't be one and it should be treated as the rock concert it is. Also, in regards to the comment about people yelling at others to sit down...this is a HUGE problem at Neil shows and it's because many of his fans are strict sit downers. I was in the lawn at NJ Arts center years ago and I almost saw a fight break out over someone dancing.....ridiculous it's the lawn! These people call themselves fans, but they don't move their bodies to the music??? I don't get it!

sunnbear Fri 11/16/2007 01:23PM
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In Woodside, CA (where the Young's live most of the time, I believe) there is a little bar that Neil would come into, on occasion, and sit in with whatever band was playing that night for a few tunes. It was more than fucking cool to see him in such a small place and he didn't demand 90% of the door. He would then cozy up to the bar and sip a few brews with the locals. Good times. Great memories!

sunnbear Fri 11/16/2007 01:25PM
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Of course...this was in '85 or '86.

aaronjl1 Fri 11/16/2007 03:57PM
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all of these stories are the same as my experiences, and they leave me wondering, "who's more self absorbed neil or his core audience???" down with the baby boomers! the once oppressed have now become the oppressors -and their style of oppression is far worse than ever before bc there's so god damn many of them and they control a significant portion of every aspect of our society, AND they're getting older, more powerful, and more self absorbed every day... "but it keeps me searching for a heart of gold... and i'm getting old"

Jack Straw Berry Fri 11/16/2007 08:13PM
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Jack Straw Berry

neil has played plenty of free shows and cheap bar shows (can you say princeton landing?) around the bay area...paid his dues, played for charity, keeps putting out the goods decades later. I gotta confess, when I pay top $ to hear every nuance of an artist playing acoustic, I don't want to hear some drunk stupid dumbass talking to his friend on the cellphone about how many shots they did in the parking lot...neil's grown up, as have most of his audience...wilco fans (the new ones) whine about jeff tweedy getting righteous too, but when you listen to the recordings and here the beer bottles hitting the recycling bin (at least that's an improvement), it hurts the ears and must suck as an artist to have the quiet acoustic vibe interupted that the ticket there anyone keeping it cheap? seems like that's more a function of insurance costs and greedy promoters (can you say 8$ budweiser?) BG's memorial word was that BG disapproved of Neil's "habits", but they weren't financial fact, someone (can't remember, it was a long day) said BG didn't want to ever loan Neil money because he'd just spend it on you know what...At least he's got some material to present when he plays an overpriced show!

cocheese starstarstar Tue 11/20/2007 12:22PM
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Neil's always been an oddball, always will be.

torn&treyed Tue 11/20/2007 02:58PM
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good song writer, not really that good of a player........ and those stupid rules make me like him even less... sorry and I will not be checking this show review again so don't bother to yell at me or even write anything because I will not check this thread after posting this message....

Let the games begin

PrinceofDANKNESS Mon 11/26/2007 10:42PM
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petemora starstarstar Mon 12/10/2007 01:16PM
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Not that good of a player? Are you kidding me? What do want to hear? Eddie Van Halen solos? Steve Vai divebombs?