DAN DELUCA: If you’re a fan of the indomitable Canadian rocker – high-pitched voice, proto-grunge guitar, total immersion in the music – then you want to see Neil Young Trunk Show on the big screen, for sure. That’s because the concert film was shot in 2007 at two shows at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby – particularly great shows, even by Young’s no-holds-barred standards. Trunk Show takes a nearly opposite approach from the beautifully becalmed Heart of Gold, filmed in Nashville in 2005, a short time after Young had suffered a brain aneurysm. Heart of Gold had the feel of a family gathering, a warm, deeply felt country sing-along in simple celebration of how good it felt to still be alive. Trunk Show is a different deal. It’s a half-acoustic, half-electric rock-and-roll carnival that’s a fanciful survey of Young’s prodigious career. It comes at Young with a spontaneous feel, and from odd angles. Demme’s cameras capture Young from the balcony and behind the drum kit. On a stage cluttered with oddities – a red telephone, a guy painting as the band plays – Demme wisely resists the urge to dazzle us with rapid-fire cutting, instead lingering on Young’s expressive 62-year-old face.
RUST NEVER SLEEPS: Neil Young, Tower Theater, 12/10/07
1. It takes a lot of
dead dinosaurs fossil fuel to bring Neil’s folksy brand of crunchy laidback-ness to a theater near you, just so he can deliver in person that iconic line in that iconic song – “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st Century”– like that old Indian chief in the commercial standing in the white man’s trash with a tear running down his cheek. And the audience can break into spontaneous cheers and applause, as was the case Sunday night at the Tower. By my count there were at least seven semis and two huge, deluxe, diesel-belching buses out back. Just sayin’.
2. Most rockers of Neil’s stature that get to be his age without asphyxiating on their own vomit become boring-ass institutions. Neil is more like a funky University: a bit of a party school, truth be told; hacky-sack casual but soulful; not cheap but worth it, plus tuition gets you access to a vast and richly cross-referenced archives. In the last 20 years, Neil has become fairly obsessive about documenting his legacy. Jonathan Demme and film crew were on hand at the Tower Sunday night making what will prove to be, by my count, the 37th or 38th Neil Young concert film. I can’t wait to see it.
3. The stage set was impeccably art-directed with just the right melange of suitably rustic Neil Youngian brica-a-brac: vintage movie lights, old fans, the giant disembodied letters of old street signs arranged across the backdrop like a dyslexic alphabet. In an apparent holdover from the Greendale tour’s rock-meets-community-theater conceit, a painter stood near the back of the stage working up a canvas on an easel that would serve as title card for each new song. The night was divided into two set: one acoustic, one electric. During the acoustic set, Neil was wearing what looked like Wayne Coyne’s white linen suit. During the electric set, he wore a similar suit, but looked as though he had been dive-bombed by a squadron of incontinent pigeons. Sharp.
4. He could have called it a night after just the second song — “Ambulance Blues,” to be exact — and I would felt I got my money’s worth (OK, technically I didn’t pay anything). That song alone is/was/and forever shall be worth the $169 it cost
me everyone else to get into the Tower Sunday night. It’s the one that goes: “You’re all just pissin’ in the wind/You don’t know it but you are. And there ain’t nothin’ like a friend/Who can tell you you’re just pissin’ in the wind.” I hear ya, dawg.
5. One of the first things he said to the audience was, “I am currently reminded of W.C. Fields for some reason.” And then after one of his patented drifty pauses, and with just the right note of stoner understatement, he added: “He was a funny guy.” A few songs later he paused to look up at the Tower’s magnificent domed ceiling and spiraling minarets and said, “This a good place…I remember the first concert I ever saw was Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney. It was at the Municipal Auditorium and the place couldn’t have held more than a thousand people — of course they had their mobile home outside. And then came the stadiums and the sheds…and, well, it’s just been a fight to get back to places like this where I always wanted to be.” Nice.
TEXT & PHOTO BY JONATHAN VALANIA