Concerti on Love in Minor Keys

TULSA — We left Oklahoma six days ago, but the memories are fresh, details helped by notes on the Oct. 14 Neil Young concert. The show, overall lasting 3:40, amazed me. I expected a great time, and it surpassed that.

Crazy Horse, Tulsa, 14 October 2012
Crazy Horse, Tulsa, 14 October 2012 Photo by Christy Pollock

Reviews remain a parasitic genre: You should’ve been there.

Careful essays on Young’s current Alchemy concert tour are a flick of the mouse away. All to be found in this Brick, after days of consideration, is an annotated set list, with links to the songs.

Song 1. “?” reads my notes.

Here is the set list of an aficionado, and it’s confirmed by an official, commercial one:. So Song 1 is “Love and Only Love.” This YouTube recording is from earlier in this tour, and is similar to how Young and his band Crazy Horse performed it at the Tulsa Convention Center. We see on the jumbo video screens that Neil’s right wrist is taped up in an elastic bandage.

Yes, this is about 15 minutes long. That explains how Young’s single set lasted two hours — he didn’t even take a drink of water — with only 13 songs. The song was new to me. Knock me: It came out in 1990, 22 years ago.

Song 2 — “Powderfinger” an old hit I knew, though only from its first line — “Look out, Mama, there’s a white boat comin’ up the river” — and not the title. It’s from 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, the one Young album I ever bought,* not counting my big brother’s college cassette collection that he gave me, containing Deja Vu by Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

Song 3. “Born in Ontario” — a new song. It may be on the upcoming album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill.

Song 4. “Walk Like a Giant” — the best song of the night. It’s also new. There’s an official video. It’s interesting and not too long, but the live, overlong version drills into your soul. All the musicians whistle in the refrain: Neil, guitarist Frank “Pancho” Sampedro, bass player Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina.

Song 5. Another oldie, real old, “Needle and the Damage Done.” From about 1971. Crazy Horse left the stage for this, and Neil played an acoustic guitar. It’s short, and Neil didn’t extend it with any riffs.

Song 6. “Twisted Road,” a new song. It’s about nostalgia for the best early rockers — Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Roy Orbison and others. I am positive I missed references to other musicians. Maybe we can hold a contest.

Song 7. “Singer Without a Song” is what I wrote down, and that is its most likely title, bloggers at this point agree. Neil accompanied himself on piano.

Song 8. “?” Turns out this is “Ramada Inn.” A new song. A sad love ballad, it has this refrain, “She loves him so, she does what she has to,” alternating with “… does what she needs to.”

View of Neil Young off the jumbo video screen
View of Neil Young off the jumbo video screen Photo by Christy Pollock

Song 9. “Cinnamon Girl.” The band now has returned to the stage, and they’re all back to electric. I know it was a hit, but it was new to me Sunday night. This post’s title occurs to me during this song. Even when Neil sings about global or philosophical issues, he’s singing and playing guitar (or piano or harmonica) about love. Actually, most of his songs would be considered set in major keys, but the improvisations, and certainly the feedback loops, roam all over.

Song 10. “?” The skilled set lists say this is “[Effin’] Up.” All I knew was at the end of a long guitar duet or maybe it was a duel with Pancho, Neil said, “That was [eff’ed] up.” I thought he was apologizing, but it must have been the title, eh? Anyway, it’s from 1990.

Song 11. “Mr. Soul.” Another old yet unfamiliar song that has a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” beat. Ah, it’s 1967, and with that early band Buffalo Springfield.

Song 12 and the last song. “Hey, Hey, My, My,” from Rust Never Sleeps. I still have the old cassette, but all that’s left is some bass, all the highs have deterioriated. Yes I still own an audiocassette player. “Rock and roll is here to stay,” yet cassettes don’t really “burn out” — turns out they “fade away.”

Finale: “Tonight’s the Night.” From 1973. I’d heard this one before, at some point in my memory. Interesting that Neil and Pancho chose to close with a reflective song.

Ben and Christy, after the show
Ben and Christy, after the show Photo by Christy Pollock

Show’s over, and we look tired, don’t we? And we didn’t do anything more strenuous than stand in line 35 minutes for beers during the opening act, a retro heavy metal group called Infantree. Within its first 15 seconds, I chose to save my ears for Crazy Horse (famous for going to “11”) and the listed opening act, the wonderful Los Lobos.

I wish Los Lobos would play Fayetteville. We’d show them a great standing-room-only crowd. (Tulsa Convention Center was just over half capacity — pretty sad for Neil’s stature.) And: Los Lobos in the Ozarks needs to be someplace where people could dance.

Note on theatrics

We had theater. I don’t mean Neil did moonwalks. Hanging on either side of the stage as the audience entered– hung a pair of two-dimensional (flat) giant renderings of the front of a old-fashioned powder blue portable TV set. Each screen depicted a version of the old black-and-white “Indian Head Test Card” — coinciding with the Crazy Horse logo. At 9 p.m. exactly, Los Lobos was off the stage and these screens went live — the jumbo video.

The roadies at this point were in costumes — about a third in the black T and denim tradition, another third in dayglow orange vests and hardhats (props, not needed) and the remainder in white lab coats, walking like B-movie scientists. On the backs of the coats was embroidered “Alchemy,” the title of Young’s summer-fall 2012 tour.

The lead “scientist” pretended to use an iPad. He was an older fellow who despite his beard and long frizzy curly hair reminded me of the comic Professor Irwin Corey (who has straight hair and apparently is still alive at age 98!). His pantomined role was of stage manager.

Sitting on the stage the whole evening were gigantic, 20-30-foot-tall shipping containers. With the entry of the crew, the background recorded music turned to the Beatles’ “Day in the Life,” with the sound of chains and winches. The boxes were pulled up, revealing giant, old-model Fender amplifiers. While these were obviously fake, due to their huge size, real amps were inside them, behind the brown tweedy grills, so Neil could aim his guitar at them and do his feedback thing.

* The Tulsa tickets came with a CD of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s sort-of traditional album from this spring, Americana. I do intend to buy Psychedelic Pill when it’s released later this fall.

Copyright 2012 Ben S. Pollock