Friday, 14 June 2013

Neil Young in Glasgow

Last night I saw Canadian rocker Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse in Glasgow.  Of course, it's not the first time Mr Young has played Glasgow. 

Back in the 70s, a Glasgow film crew tailed Young as he arrived in Glasgow for a concert, looking for some funky footage.  They captured the moment that Neil sat down outside the Gordon Street entrance of Central Station and started playing The Old Laughing Lady.

Click here for video of Neil Young busking in Glasgow, 1976

The film is hugely nostalgic not only because it captures a Glasgow I remember, but a Glasgow you find you've forgotten.  It looks unbelievably far back in the past - grimy, old-fashioned (not least because it's in black and white), full of socialist newspaper headlines, women in headscarves, slick-haired businessmen, flatcapped workers, thin long-haired teenagers and very bad glasses.  

People don't immediately recognise or appreciate Neil Young at all, sitting right there down on the pavement on the street corner (except for one young woman who sits beside him like an acolyte).  So it's a strangely meaningful little bit of film, working on a number of levels.

But last night, a rather older Mr Young and his band were at the huge aircraft-hangar-sized hall of the SECC, where everyone knew very well who he was and had paid a lot of money to be there.  Age has not wearied his voice - never the most melodic of instruments, it is nevertheless fresh as a daisy, as vulnerably fragile, emotive and expressive as it ever was.  

However, what differenciated this concert from the usual slickly-timed, ultra-staged performances-in-a-soulless-shed of megabands such as Rush (whom I saw at the same venue last month) is that this felt strangely intimate, even spontaneous  (although I was in the cheap standing section down at the front - the view from the seated area away at the back must have been very poor in comparison).

Walk Like A Giant lasted 20 minutes, with guitars roaring.  At times the set was so storming and inventive, it felt like what it must have been like tripping at Woodstock (in fact the Woodstock Festival logo was on a banner at the back of the stage at one point).  Neil was strumming the guitar, hitting it, blowing it, coaxing, chastising it to get the notes out. 

At one point he even stuck his hand through the giant amp to twiddle on some knobs to get some even more mind-grinding acoustic distortion on the cosmic soundscape.  Combined with snatched, fragments of screened images of the band in their younger days, it was as if he was altering the actual time/space continuum with his guitar.

 photo by Leticia Nischang

At times during the set, it was like listening to the later parts of Yes's The Gates of Delirium in all its apocalyptic visceral crunching and grinding. 

As for stage effects, at one point newspapers and old plastic bags blew and swirled around the stage. A bit like the entrance to Central Station in 1976.

There was certainly a wide cross-section of audience members down at the front rocking out - the guy in front of me had brought his mum and his gran, and a creche of urchins jumped around at the side - some of whom were probably not even born at the beginning of the set.

In contrast, in the middle of the show, came a simple acoustic guitar and harmonica section with the beautiful Heart of Gold ("and I'm gettin' old" sang the 67-year-old ironically named Mr Young, poignantly)

and Blowin' in the Wind.  Then it all kicked off again, raging into Powderfinger, Cinnamnon Girl and Hey, Hey, My, My. 

When you go to a concert, you don't want to feel that you are part of some huge sausage factory experience, consuming a soullessly repeated show that will be the the same tomorrow night to another audience.  You want to feel some sort of a connection to the person on stage, and however naively, you want to feel that they are connecting to you. 

In an age of stadium venue concerts, Neil Young and Crazy Horse was a surprisingly intimate and life-affirming show.

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