PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > YOUNG’S ONE STOP WORLD TOUR

YOUNG’S ONE STOP WORLD TOUR
The Boarding House
San Francisco, May 26th &27th, 1978
By Paul Nelson
Rolling Stone 27th July 1978

 

When Neil Young performed with Crazy Horse at the Palladium in New York almost two years ago,he made such an impression on me that sometime during the opening show (for which I had a ticket),I knew I had to see them all. For the first time in my life, I patronised the scalpers.Though the tickets cost something like thirty bucks apiece, they were the only way to get in, and I just couldn’t let the music stop. Here was rock & roll so primal and unexplainable that I simply wanted to let it wash over me,pulse through me. When Young wandered out and began to play songs like “Cortez the killer” and “Like a Hurricane” on his black electric guitar, I figured I’d at last found the perfect target for that most overused of adjectives:mythic. For once none of the answers mattered because the questions themselves formed such complete and satisfying entities – entities that had long crossed the border of Freudian logic and were now headed out toward the farthest of the far countries. Neil Jung I wrote in my notebook A not-inappropriate pun.

At his recent five-night gig at the Boarding House(a club that seats fewer than 300), Young played four acoustic guitars, harmonica and piano There was no backing band. Surprisingly the lack of electricity diminished neither his rock & roll effectiveness nor his enormous mystique, though it did make clear his folk music roots.(“Sugar Mountain” in fact, almost sounded like a summary of how, for some, folk music leads naturally into the perhaps-more-lethal art of rock & roll.After he’d sung it, someone in the audience said “That song’s about being twenty.” No I thought to myself, that song’s about not being twenty.)At any rate, Neil Young’s “1978 world tour”-he plans to spend the rest of the year working on his second movie, Human Highway, much of which was filmed at these concerts-proved that he doesn’t need anybody but himself up there, that he can rule a stage through the sheer force of his will. Strength, I wrote in my notebook. Pure strength.

Before the first set, I noticed I’m not the only fanatic who’s flown all the way across America just to hear Neil Young. John Rockwell from the New York Times is here, and he seems as obsessed as I do. As does Cameron Crowe from Rolling Stone’s Los Angeles office. While were waiting, we trade stories, the best of which are that Young once wrote, recorded, but didn’t issue an album made up entirely of songs whose titles other people had made famous(“Born to Run,” “Sail Away,” “Greensleves” etc.) and that he’s got well over 175 songs in releasable form-nearly twenty LP’s worth. There are three large wooden Indians on the dimly lit stage. We sit and stare at them for a while. They seem to say it all.

When Young appears on stage he doesn’t ever seem to walk on: all of a sudden, he’s justthere-he announces, “It’s good to be back on the boards again, as Mick Jagger said in 1967.” He pauses for a moment, looks down, then fixes the crowd with a benevolent behind-blue-eyes stare. His eyebrows are so black he looks like a cartoon varmint trying to emulate the barrels of a shotgun. “Just think of me as one you’ll never figure,”he says. My God, the guy can read minds, I think. Not only that but he’s his own best critic.

True to his word, Young does a lot of things no one can figure. Technically, he’s literally wired for sound with a set of complicated electronics that enable him to move about freely without any visible microphones. (Once, when something goes awry in the control room, he emits static and sputters like the six million dollar man-gone-bad.) Musically, he plays impeccably-and in tune. And with Comes a time, his new record, due out soon, you’d expect him to do quite a few songs from it, right? Wrong. He does three:the title tune, the lovely “Already One” (about his ex-wife, Carrie Snodgrass, and his son, Zeke)and “Human Highway.” He doesn’t sing that many old favourites either, though “Birds,” “After the Goldrush,” “Sugar Mountain,” “Down by the River,” “Cowgirl in the Sand” and a Buffalo Springfield song called “Out of My Mind” invariably bring the house down.

Instead, Young stalks the stage like a slightly seedy James Stewart/ Henry Fonda type moving in arhythmic bobs and weaves, he sometimes seems to be performing a near-tribal dance-and guides us through a raft of new (or at least unreleased) material:”Out of the Blue and into the Black,” “Thrasher,” “Shots,” “Pocahontas,” “Sail Away,” “Ride my Lama” (“an extraterrestrial folk song”),”The Ways of Love.” Of these, I’d betat leasttwo are masterpieces. “Out of the Blue and into the Black” is about-well, here are some of the words:My my,hey hey, rock & roll is here to stay It’s better to burn out than to fade away…The king is gone but he’s not forgotten. This is the story of Jonny Rotten…Hey hey, my my, rock & roll can never die. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye…*And “Thrasher” a complex and incredibly touching song about friendship, duty, work and death, I’d guess after four listenings sounded even better, especially on the twelve string guitar.

In the manner of the best of the traditional blues singers, Neil Young seems totally alone on stage in a way that almost no contemporary performer ever does. But he’s not foreboding, and you don’t feel shut off. Head down, chin tucked into his shoulders like a boxer, he peers out at you with those all-knowing eyes filled with humour and flashes that beatific, silly grin. Like Muhammad Ali, he may well be the greatest. But we’ll never know until we hear those 175 or so unreleased songs, will we? How about it? I’m ready and raring to go.

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