Neil Young - Ben Folds - Leftover Salmon
New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park
August 3, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1997, Volume 4, #10
Written by John Metzger
Last year, when it was announced that Blues Traveler was retiring from the H.O.R.D.E. circuit, and everyone expected the festival to disappear or, at least, quickly deteriorate. Instead, this year's event, headlined by Neil Young, easily exceeded everyone's expectations and outperformed any of the H.O.R.D.E. shows thus far.
H.O.R.D.E. and Young crept into town on August 3, only two weeks after Young's former bandmates Crosby, Stills, and Nash had performed at the Rosemont Theater. Unfortunately, that was two weeks too many for any sort of reunion to take place. Throughout the tour, Young has been sneaking off to the Workshop Stage early in the day to perform an acoustic set. For most of the tour, this set has featured no less than five songs and took place in front of some small crowds. Basically, it was a nice treat for those folks coming early in the day.
Unfortunately, local radio station WXRT announced that this would take place, prompting a huge influx of people to the venue. This was a great treat for the performers, who throughout the tour have played to small crowds, but it really ruined Young's acoustic set. The crowd was just too large, and sadly, many people were there "just because it was cool" — not because they wanted to hear Young pull off an intimate performance. Since most of those gathered around the small stage didn't know the songs, they chose to talk rather than listen, making it difficult at times to hear through the limited sound system. Nevertheless, John Popper stopped by for a surprise visit, and the pair ran through Roll Another Number (for the Road) and a bluesy This Note's for You before departing.
Back at the main stage, the highly touted Medeski, Martin, and Wood embarked upon a brief, 35-minute set. The group performed a blend of jazz and rock and came across as a jazzy version of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, largely because John Medeski's keyboard playing was such a driving force behind the collective.
Chicago-based Push Down and Turn kicked things off on the Second Stage with a batch of infectious songs. This group has potential, as guitarist Sam King nailed a number of solos, behind Jason Brown's Stone Temple Pilots-style of singing. Unfortunately, by the end of the set, the band seemed somewhat one-dimensional with all its songs sounding very much the same.
This same problem also hit Main Stage act Kula Shaker, the only British group on the H.O.R.D.E. tour. They pulled off a 45-minute set that closely followed in the footsteps of the Stone Roses' Manchester sound, but the group seemed somewhat bored with many of its songs.
Toad the Wet Sprocket opened its set with Come Down and Whatever I Fear, the two hits from its most recent release Coil, and it was a welcome relief from the shrieking, irritating Second Stage act Cake Like. The psychedelic Butterflies was the first of several songs performed from the group's 1991 breakthrough Fear. This song ran smack into a surprise version of The Beatles' Within You Without You, but ended abruptly when the audience displayed little reaction. The crowd was much more responsive when, later in the set, Toad played a few bars of John Mellencamp's Jack and Diane before launching into its own hit All I Want.
It should be noted that singer Glen Phillips' vocal performance was much improved from a few years ago. In fact, his concert performances improved dramatically throughout the tour with Darius Rucker and the rest of Hootie and the Blowfish. Both Nightingale Song and Throw It All Away gave him a chance to really shine. His guitar playing has also improved, adding another dimension to this group's live performances.
Leftover Salmon kept the momentum going with a rousing set of bluegrass-inspired rock and roll. John Popper appeared on stage and performed the last two songs with the band, including a blistering Funky Mountain Fogdown.
Primus' bassist Les Claypool is an amazing performer, but the group's songs just don't come across all that well. For the most part, all the songs performed by Primus sounded the same. At times, the band did take off, particularly when Claypool allowed the its guitarist to explore a few musical realms of his own, occasionally sounding like Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Unfortunately, this was all too rare, and Primus's set became somewhat tedious.
Next, on the Second Stage was Ben Folds Five, and the group didn't disappoint. Folds has a tendency to bang away on his piano in a rather unorthodox fashion that some keyboardists would say is sacrilegious. However, his stage antics are amusing to watch. His regular three-piece band consists of piano, bass, and drums, but this evening was augmented with a string section. With the lack of a guitarist, the group provides an interesting twist to the standard musical fare, at times sounding like Todd Rundgren with a sense of humor more in line with Phish.
Morphine is offered another interesting line-up and created a new twist on music. This band, like Ben Folds Five, is a three-piece outfit, but consists of a two-string bass, saxophone, and drums. Unfortunately, their second stage set was cut short by a downpour of epic proportions.
The rain did not stop Neil Young and Crazy Horse from taking the stage promptly at its designated start time. The band immediately launched into their portentous Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and held back nothing as the dual guitar attack of Young and the underrated Frank "Poncho" Sampedro each belted out scorching riffs. It was great to hear Crime in the City and the more mellow Hippie Dream, but these were overshadowed by the raging thunderstorm that continued to surround the theater.
Young regained the audience's attention with F*!#in' Up, and driven by the rhythmic duo of Ralph Molina's drums and Billy Talbot's bass, he launched into an amazing solo that was cut short when the storm wiped out the power to the arena. Only Neil Young and Crazy Horse could possibly keep their momentum rolling, continuing to jam despite a lack of lighting and a sound system. Instead, flashlights and candles cast light upon the band, which continued unfazed. Gradually, the crew turned all the amps and monitors towards the audience, and the fireworks continued.
Lightning surrounded the theater with brilliant flashes and streaks across the sky. The wind and rain picked up, and Young and company countered in an awesome duel with nature. Without pause, Young led the band through a life-affirming, all-out experience of Like a Hurricane that only seemed to magically intensify the storm. The wind pushed the rain through the pavilion to the 35,000 seat arena. We were about midway between the stage and the back of the pavilion and ended up soaking wet. Even more amazing was that the wind picked up at such a speed, it pushed the hard-driving rain all the way to the stage, drenching everyone, including the band. Despite the risk of electrical shock, the group continued to plow through Like a Hurricane, which seemed more and more appropriate with each note it played.
Rockin' in the Free World continued the intensity. Water gushed down into the pavilion, and the audience climbed onto walls to avoid the flow, which peaked about 3 inches short of the foot-high barricade. Gradually, the water worked down to the front of the stage, where it created a small river. Young continued on through Tonight's the Night, while security told everyone that this would be the final song. This was a big mistake for those who left.
Young noticed the water flowing down the aisles and launched into a pairing of Down by the River and Powderfinger. Despite the fact that it was difficult to hear much more than the vocals and the guitars of Young and Sampedro, both of these versions were unbelievably intense. With the power of the group's delivery, the insanity of the storm, and the hysterical stage antics of a band dancing around in the rain, the remaining audience was totally captivated by the performance. Somehow, the group managed to defeat the rain — by the time it finished Piece of Crap, 80 minutes after taking the stage, the rain had stopped.
It no longer seems quite as necessary for Blues Traveler to return to the fold, as this year's acts more than lived up to the H.O.R.D.E. reputation. Given the amazing performance of veteran Young; a strong outing from Toad the Wet Sprocket; and inspired sets from newcomers Leftover Salmon, Ben Folds Five, and Morphone; this H.O.R.D.E. festival upped the ante for next year's tour. Whoever does sign up for next year's traveling circus will certainly have their hands full trying to live up to the insanity of this trip around the country.
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