Saturday, November 08, 2008

Concert Review: Neil Young w/ Death Cab For Cutie & Everest, MTS Centre, Winnipeg, MB, 10/16/2008

I had a $75 general admission floor seat, and arrived just before 6 pm, when the doors opened. I quickly made my way to the floor where I parked myself, leaning on a railing at the front, for the whole evening.

The barricades seemed farther from the stage than normal, and I quickly realized that this was done to provide the two guys with video cameras ample room to run around and provide footage for the two large video screens. Additionally, there were two more camera crews nestled above the front of the stage. I must applaud Neil Young for providing everyone with a great view of the show, even if they were sitting as far away as possible. Video screens should be mandatory.

Openers Everest reminded me why I like seeing live bands. They were a bit twangy, with catchy indie-pop songs and reminded me a fair bit of Wilco, the Jeff Tweedy-led Chicago band who had opened for several dates on the current Neil Young tour. I was impressed enough to buy their CD at the merchandise booth.

Death Cab For Cutie are currently among the cream of the crop indie bands and one of my favorites. Lead singer and guitarist Ben Gibbard has a distinctive voice and a dynamite stage presence. Unfortunately, for the first few songs, he had problems getting sound from his guitars. In fact, at one point, guitarist Chris Walla began making small talk with the audience, very obviously buying time as a tech tried to sort out Gibbard's guitar problems. As the sound problems continued, Gibbard actually threw his guitar to the ground and kicked over the suspect electronics gear that he thought was failing. The box was replaced but even as he was strumming, I thought there was no sound from his guitar. I was correct.

Eventually, the tech simply removed the replacement gear. Gibbard is an above average songwriter. On stage, when not singing, he made rapid staccato-like movements as he rapidly danced a bit before returning to the microphone. Death Cab For Cutie are one of the cool indie pop bands out there and have become as hip as what REM used to be, before they became mega-popular.

Around 9:20 pm, Neil Young (born 1945) and band walked on the stage for several electric guitar-based songs before playing some acoustic numbers. Young was stunning on guitar and managed to coax extended solos out of the song. His playing was characterized with monstrous riffs, rapidly flying fingers and tons of cranking of the whammy bar. I have seen many bands this year, but Neil Young is among the most violent attacker of strings that I have seen. He is also a master improviser, making every electric song a sonic and visual spectacle. There's absolutely no one quite like Neil Young.

Musicians know that in order to be remembered, they need to be unique. Not only had Young had a distinct career as a recording artist, but on stage, no one moves like him. Even in his early sixties, he still thrills a crowd by merely picking up his knees and moving his feet. The stage looked quite odd with a cigar store wooden Indian, and very old amplifiers. Oddest of all, however, and never explained by Young, was the man at the back of the stage who painted away on one canvass after another, with his back turned to us. There was no curtain at the back of the stage, and fans sitting behind the stage had a pretty good view.

At the end of the first set, a few guitar picks were being tossed by the band and one landed a few feet to my right, but behind the barricade. A really tall guy in the crowd climbed over the barricade to retrieve the pick and was instantly pounced on by security who just as quickly moved him away. All the while, the entire band looked on from the front of the stage as they had just finished offering up their final bow.

Young reached way back to the 1969 album, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, his second solo effort, for the title track as well as "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cowboy In The Sand." Among his other classics were "Heart of Gold,", "Cortez The Killer," "The Needle And The Damage Done," "Old Man," and a ferocious "Rockin' In The Free World," in which Young tore the strings from his guitar and still hammered away on the fretboard for an orgasmic grunge effect. It was a stunning conclusion to a set just shy of two hours.

Young didn't play two songs that I really wanted to hear, "Like A Hurricane," from 1978's American Stars 'n' Bars and the title track from the 1992 album Harvest Moon. More people than usual were leaving their seats for breaks when Young played the pop-flavored newer material like "Sea Change" and "When World Collide." For the encore, they played the Beatles "A Day In The Life," which ended with Young climbing to the back of the stage and hitting the very final note, just as it is on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. This subtle move brought down the house and made for a memorable conclusion to Young's sixth concert in Winnipeg, the town where he first began his career in music.

01. Love And Only Love
02. Hey Hey , My My
03. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
04. Powderfinger
05. Spirit Road
06. Cortez The Killer
07. Cinnamon Girl
08. Oh, Lonesome Me
09. Mother Earth
10. The Needle And The Damage Done
11. Unknown Legend
12. Heart Of Gold
13. Old Man
14. Get Back To The Country
15. Just Singing A Song
16. Sea Change
17. When Worlds Collide
18. Cowgirl In The Sand
19. Rockin' In The Free World
20. A Day In The Life

Neil Young - guitar, harmonica, pump organ, vocals
Ben Keith - pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, organ, background vocals
Rick Rosas - bass
Chad Cromwell - drums
Pegi Young - background vocals, vibraphone, piano, guitar
Anthony Crawford - background vocals, piano, guitar, bells
Larry Cragg - banjo

Attendance: 13,000


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