Words by: Tim Dwenger
Neil Young :: 11.05.07 :: Wells Fargo Theatre :: Denver, CO
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.
| Neil Young|
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."
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.
| Neil Young|
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.
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."
| Neil Young|
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.
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."
| Neil Young by Tony Stack|
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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