Neil Young - Pretenders
New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park
September 2, 2000
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2000, Volume 7, #10
Written by John Metzger
Where some artists utilize their tours to look back at a recently released album, Neil Young tends to look forward. His jaunt across the country in Spring 1999 was a solo acoustic endeavor that highlighted much of what eventually became his contributions to his reunion with Crosby, Stills, and Nash as well as his own critically-acclaimed release Silver & Gold. Occasionally, however, Young does step out on the road and re-examine his vast back catalog, often reinventing the material in the process.
Such was the case on September 2, when Young dropped by the New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. For this outing, Young shied away from using his incendiary electric backing band Crazy Horse. Instead, he formed a new outfit around the crack rhythm team of drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, who also accompanied him for the recent CSNY reunion. Also on board were longtime compatriots keyboardist Spooner Oldham and pedal steel player Ben Keith as well as Young's wife Pegi and sister Astrid.
Surprisingly, Young performed only three songs from his recent release. He opted instead to dig deep into his rich and exquisite songbook for unreleased nuggets like Bad Fog of Loneliness and other obscure selections like Winterlong. There was a method to his madness, however, and his choices were skillfully selected to complement and highlight the music on Silver & Gold. This was a perfect and subtle way of reminding everyone that the themes that Young wove into his latest album have pervaded his music throughout his entire career.
As one might expect, the concert consisted of songs that were reflective in nature as Young looked back on former bandmates (Buffalo Springfield Again) and pondered the need to simplify his life (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere). However, the central theme for the show, much like Silver & Gold, dealt with the topic of personal relationships and love, and Young's set list was tailored to tell the tale of a relationship from start to finish.
The little known single Dance, Dance, Dance and the raw emotion of Razor Love set the stage, while From Hank to Hendrix foreshadowed the portending emotional turmoil. Daddy Went Walkin' viewed divorce from the eyes of a child who imagines his parents have reunited, and Peace of Mind, which was augmented by Keith's sobbing, mournful pedal steel, explored the post-breakup while wallowing in the difficulties of filling in those open, empty spaces. The evening concluded with the soft strains of Mellow My Mind as Young came to terms with his feelings.
Musically, Young drew from every aspect of his career, blurring the lines that have often separated his Crazy Horse and solo acoustic performances. Consequently, songs like Harvest Moon were able to take their rightful place alongside more torrid material all of which was linked by a deeply personal emotional bond.
Tonight's the Night levitated over Dunn's ominous bass line and Keith's ghostly wails of slide guitar. Likewise, Young's reedy tenor brought a desperate hopefulness to I Believe in You. Standing in sharp contrast were Words (Between the Lines of Age) and Cowgirl in the Sand. On the former, Young cauterized his wounds with his searing electric guitar, while the latter was transformed into a turbulent 25-minute epic extravaganza. Riding over the rumbling, rolling thunder rhythm of Dunn and Keltner, Young violently spewed super-charged notes that burst forth like lightning through a prism. Meanwhile, the song's mercurial remnants were repeatedly dissolved only to have them coagulate once again, resulting in crushing waves of sound that savagely tore at the sonic shoreline.
Tegan and Sara opened the show with a 20-minute set of acoustic duets reminiscent of the Indigo Girls. The Pretenders performed in the middle slot, opening with a cover of Young's The Loner. Performing as if they had something to prove, they filled their songs with a greater sense of urgency than their recorded counterparts contain. Back to Ohio straddled the line between Van Morrison's Them and early period Rolling Stones as it raged over its steady beat and stinging guitar fills. Middle of the Road started with that same current of '60s-era rock and built it into a punishing punk assault. Concluding their set with another Young-penned song (The Needle and the Damage Done), the Pretenders further demonstrated not only their respect for him as an artist but also their gratitude for his inviting them on this tour.
The lone downside for the evening was the repeated between-set barrage of advertisements that was displayed on the large video screens flanking the stage. These commercials pushed products as diverse as potato chips, a popular airline, articles of clothing, and a travel destination. With ticket prices for this show reaching astronomical levels, one has to wonder why the advertisements were even deemed necessary. One can only conclude they were shown due to the corporate greed of promoter SFX. However, potential advertisers should be wary because these Clockwork Orange-style offensives leave only the bad taste of stale potato chips in the mouths of music fans.
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