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.