Last night I watched Neil Young live by his own maxim…
It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.
And burn Neil did. Brightly. Young is a rarity in the music world. His career has spanned more than forty years, he is the author of countless songs that are part of the very fabric of their generation and yet there is not a hint of nostalgia in what he does. Young is as vital now as he was in the early-mid sixties when he first recorded with Buffalo Springfield.
In front of a packed house, Young revealed his many layers. We saw the rock monster tearing through songs like Hey Hey, My My and Rockin’ in the Free World, the stark realist laying bare Needle and the Damage Done, the environmentalist (Mother Earth), the folk/country singer (Harvest Moon), the white noise experimentalist (A Day in the Life) and the swirling psychedlic (Cortez the Killer). And every layer was imbued with passion. The shifts in tempo never equating to a drop in intensity. Every word, every note was delivered with the conviction of an artist who still has much to prove, who is still on the journey.
Highlights for this Lost Shark were the power pop of Cinnamon Girl. I tell you, when the drums and guitars kick in to that rhythm my heart just beats a little faster.
The sweet country of Old Man. Hearing the lyric, Old man look at my life, I’m alot like you were, I could not help but feel that Neil is still the one looking forward, never the Old Man looking back.
And the raucous Rockin’ in the Free World. As Neil belted out the opening lyric:
There’s colours on the street/ red, white and blue
the significance kicked me in the head and heart. Here I was, not 24 hours after the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, listening to one of the most outspoken musicians of our time (for his comment on the Bush government check out the album Living With War) rock us into the dawn of a new era.
Young is on record as saying:
‘No one song can change the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop singing. Somewhere on Earth a scientist is alone working. No one knows what he or she is thinking. The secret is just within reach. If I knew that answer I would be singing the song. This is the age of innovation. Hope matters. But not hope alone. In the age of innovation, the people’s fuel must be found. That is the biggest challenge. Who is up to the challenge? Who is searching today? All day. All night. Every hour that goes by. I know I am.’
Watching Neil as he crouched like a caged tiger, sneering the lyric ‘We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand’, his faithful ‘Old Black’ guitar pointing toward the audience spitting out notes that to quote the great Woody Guthrie would have ‘killed fascists’ I was aware that this was a moment in my history I would never forget.
On the day of Obama’s inauguration I had my hands in the air singing along to Rockin’ in the Free World… What were you doing?