Red Means Run, Son

Neil Young

There are only a few musicians whom I’ve long admired that I haven’t seen live yet.  Haven’t seen R.E.M. Or Van Morrison, The Kinks/Ray Davies, Teenage Fanclub or The Left Banke. Okay, just kidding about that last one. Until Saturday night, it seemed inexplicable, but I hadn’t ever seen Neil Young, either.

I can’t really say that Neil Young is on the list of my top 10 musicians of all time, but I can tell you that there has never been a time in my life when I wasn’t in a Neil Young phase. There is always a Neil Young song in that catalog somewhere that is going to work for you. I also admire him for always following his heart when it comes to his music. Whether the decision was a good one or a bad one – and there were plenty of bad ones – Young never veered from where his muse took him and he’s never sold his music or created a jingle for a commercial.

So Saturday night I crossed Young off the list with my homeless-for-the-weekend friend, out in the rusting, steel traps of Worcester, MA at the DCU Center. First things first, though. The “DCU Center” will always be the Centrum. No matter who pays for the name of the building. It’s the Centrum, ok? Just getting that out of the way. We missed Everest, the opening band, but Leo and I are fans of Wilco, the middle band, and while it was very very odd for us to see them in an arena, they still put on a neat set to a very appreciative crowd. I wasn’t sure if they were fans of the band or truly surprised by a new band they were hearing, but the crowd really dug them, so I was happy to see that. It feels like yesterday when I saw them at Johnny’s D’s in Somerville three weeks before their first album came out. But it was 1995. They’ve come a long way.

Young took the stage promptly at 9:15 and hit it like a locomotive hurtling down the tracks, everything firing. The first four songs were barn burners – opened with “Love & Only Love,” then “Hey Hey, My My,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” and then thankfully, “Powderfinger,” one of my favorite Young tunes. Truthfully, I could have gone home right then and been satisfied. And maybe I should have, because from then on it was incredibly hit-and-miss, much like Young’s career. So I wasn’t surprised, nor was I disappointed. The band sounded terrific, you had just had to wait for the nuggets you liked the best. Among those for me were “Cortez The Killer,” “Get Back To The Country,” and, despite their repetitive play on classic rock radio, “Cinnamon Girl” had the guts and whack of a band of twenty-somethings and “Old Man” had a crispness, clarity and heart that just I didn’t expect. The song which Young wrote when he was 24 is now about him and not the guy who lived near him at the time.

Oh, there were curveballs in the dirt, of course. There were two stretches in the show when he just about put the place to sleep. Which is fine, really. Again, Young was playing what he was passionate about and if he happens to be in the mood to play a lot of songs (some new) about cars and coughing up the bucks, so be it. You just want to be there when he uncorks the one or two in a row that make it worth the price of the show.

I suspect if I had seen Young previously, I would have been disappointed. But I’m glad I went, because I’m not leaving this great world until I see all the people who’ve made the music that contributed to the soundtrack of my life. Check another one off the list. Saturday night’s set list is here.


10 thoughts on “Red Means Run, Son”

  1. i forgot how ridiculous the bathroom scene at the centrum is. the restroom next to my section on saturday night had 2 urinals and 2 toilets. my kindergarten bathroom was bigger … not to mention someone had yacked in the trash can located in between the sinks.

  2. Glad you liked the show. Neil Young has always been hit or miss for me. My parents were folkies and never like the Young addition to CSN so that might have helped form my opinion. The Centrum was where I saw my first concert without an adult. I was in middle school, being escorted by my older and more worldly cousin to a Bryan Adams concert!

  3. Well, I personally find R.E.M. boring these days (starting with Out of Time), and Stipe has become increasingly annoying. I suppose if you like R.E.M.’s recent stuff, you might want to see them.

    Back in my younger days, when I didn’t care about that, I guess, I saw them a number of times. I loved their music back then, and the shows I saw were amazing. Then I saw them in an arena and a big outdoor shed, and I started to lose interest.

  4. Jeff,
    We were also at that show. Didn’t know you were there too. Alas, another casualty of not being able to converse in Medfield. Your comments on the show mirrored ours exactly, but I also love The Needle & the Damage Done too, as Eric plays it.

    I am laughing out loud at I_Pee_Freely’s comment on the bathrooms. How many events do you go to where the men’s line is out the door, and there are empty stalls in the women’s room? I think a woman designed the Centrum’s bathrooms.


  5. My wife and I walked out on a Neil Young show in the Centrum some time around 1990. Sonic Youth and Social D opened up, both of whom were quite good. Neil came out on decided we all needed to see how loud and alternative he could be. He came off like a confused old fart playing bad rock (much like the Todd Rundrgren performance I just saw on Letterman). It was awful. I had seen him play before that at Jones Beach, just after Freedom came out, and it was unbelievable. Before that, I went to see his blues band croak out “This Note’s for You” which I would have walked out on, if I had been driving my own car. In the end, he played a great 5 song acoustic set that made it worth staying. So, with all the ups and downs, if you enjoyed the show, you should consider yourself playing with house money from this point forward.

    The bigger picture is the inherent letdown of finally seeing one of your favorite artists live. The whole concept centers on the fact that this artist has been around the block a few times, so you’re pretty much ensuring that you’ll be seeing a show by someone way past their prime, in bad voice, with poor energy, without the spark and fire they probably had in spades when they built their well deserved reputation.

    I’ve been to too many of these shows to count, and they nearly always leave me feeling the same way. I spend the first five minutes thinking, “Holy Crap! That’s famous recording artist Joe Shlobotnik! He’s actually here in front of me.” That is combined with the silly realization, “I’ve seen this guy in movies, videos and TV. He looks just like himself.” Then I’m good for 20 minutes of convincing myself he’s not some washed up has been. You get a couple flashes of genius and pretend that it is a good time. Finally, the boredom sets in. Look around the room. Check out some old guy with a pony tail wearing a 150 dollar made in China tour jacket. His wife is drinking a plastic yard of frozen margarita that cost $28. The boredom might be abated if the artist dips into some obscure catalog piece and it just happens to be MY FAVORITE SONG. Then, more boredom. There is a really depressing realization when the artist has left the stage and hasn’t played one of their most famous songs. Then the lame encore that surprises no one. As I make my way through the inevitable traffic snarl at the Odorono Deoderant Enormo Arena I think, “Well, I’ve got that out of the way. Joe Shlobotnik can die now.”

    Consider the following list:

    Rolling Stones
    The Who
    Paul McCartney
    Randy Newman
    Todd Rundgren
    Cheap Trick
    The Allman Brothers
    Neil Young
    The Cure
    Depeche Mode
    The Police
    The Zombies
    The Kinks
    Lovin’ Spoonful
    Tom Waits
    Elvis Costello
    The Pogues
    Jethro Tull
    Crosby Stills and Nash
    The Pixies
    Joe Strummer

    That’s just off the top of my head. Nearly all of these shows were, by any standards other than nostalgia, simply terrible, and followed the formula above. The Rolling Stones and the Who were both professional but totally boring. Shane McGowan was the most embarassing performance I’ve ever seen, and some of the shows, like watching John Sebastian trying to croak out a song past his shattered vocal cords, were simply too sadly painful to endure. Cheap Trick, for some reason, sound exactly now like they did at Budokan. How in hell do they do that?!? That was awesome, but not transcendent. Randy Newman was not in the best voice, but was so damn funny everyone had a really great time, including me. Plus he played MY FAVORITE SONG. The 90 minutes just melted away. The only one who seemed to give off the spark you get from a great new band in their utter prime (like the first time I saw Sloan) was Tom Waits. He finished the show, and I told my friend Mike how much I liked it, but I thought only playing an hour, with no opening act was kind of a rip off. Mike looked at his watch and told me he played for nearly three hours. Incredible.

    So, the motto is, go see new music in small venues, so that you can tell someone someday, “I saw the Police play at the Channel in ’78, and they were the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” That memory alone will tip the scale over a hundred mediocre arena reunion shows.

    Sorry for hijacking your blog.

  6. I don’t generally suffer from the need to hear the “familiar” tunes or get annoyed at the new, weird or experimental stuff, so I generally enjoy Neil Young’s more eclectic performances. Sometimes his albums can be hit-or-miss for me, but his performances are always energetic and vibrant, even if he plays material I have a hard time getting into. Just being in the room with all his crazy creative energy is fun. I loved the Greendale theatrical thing back in ’03. Of course, it was followed by a Crazy Horse set, which is even more transcendent.

    And to frank – Neil does not suffer from ‘old man who can’t play anymore’ syndrome. He sounds as good vocally now as he did in 1979, and plays with all the energy he’s always played with – top notch – just read the reviews of his current tour – he’s blowing minds like he’s still 24.

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