Neil Young at Edinburgh Playhouse (pt 2)

Following my escapades on Monday night involving an amazing Neil Young concert, here’s some sort of write up/review thingummy.

The Edinburgh Playhouse is a pretty good venue for music if it’s the kind where you’re sitting down and well not moshing or dancing in an extreme fashion etc. Unlike many other venues in Scotland it is actually designed for shows/music and is not a sports stadium, so as a result the sound is noticeably better. The only disadvantage I suppose in a seated gig is the hassle of getting good seats – you really have to be incredibly early when getting the tickets, and even then you’re never going to get front row unless you eBay it – and spend many hundreds in the process! Luckily (or should I say skilfully) however, we managed to get fairly awesome seats. Though it looked from the seating plan that we were the front row of the second block of seats, we were actually the second row, but that was still pretty incredible. We had seats on the far left, so we had a reasonably amazing view of the stage, it was so close too (within 15-20m)!

From readings and ramblings about the gig before I had worked out that it was his wife, Pegi, supporting, then he would come on for an acoustic set and finally Crazy Horse (naturally not the complete original one, but a very good line up nonetheless) would join him and rock the evening away so to speak. Pegi Young’s music was largely pretty enjoyable – fairly country, actually on second thoughts it pretty much was solid country music, but it was good and her backing band/musicians were great. At around 815 or thereabouts, Neil Young entered the stage to roaring applause! I didn’t realise that he was such a tall person in real life – at first actually I didn’t recognise him, but the classic hair gave it away! There was a nice circle of acoustic guitars set up on stage with a seat in the middle and a table with a fairly vast collection of harmonicas. Also worth noting was the huge (I mean huge) amount of stage clutter. This stage looked like the prop room for some theatre, with an easel set up, a huge turbine fan and endless amounts of other stuff… (And I thought The Arcade Fire’s stage looked cluttered!). He started with From Hank To Hendrix, from Harvest Moon – which was played amazingly and was one of the songs that I really expected to hear after listening to various other gigs that he had done since Harvest Moon. While he looked slightly older than his glory days (not that they’re really over – he’s incredible still) he sounded amazing. He still has his same high voice, in that whiny style, which when you hear it, you know for certain is Neil Young. Of all of Neil Young’s albums, I think I prefer the earlier ones, from the late 60s and early 70s. Of them I might have to say that On The Beach is a particular classic! Even more importantly, the song Ambulance Blues is phenomenal – providing a full 9 minutes of folky/chilled out acoustic Neil Young bliss! That said, I really didn’t expect him to play this live. It just seemed like one of those songs that weren’t too popular on the album and well it would be too long to play live, especially if not that many people knew it. Then again, this was Neil Young – who played a concert where he told the audience that he would play through some of his new material and then play some stuff that they had heard before. He proceeded, in this case by playing the new material, and then playing the new material again! Not exactly a conventionalist at times! So really I suppose there was a possibility that he would play Ambulance Blues – and by god he did! I’m sure some people there were a bit ‘huh?’ when it came to this song, but it was truly surreal to hear it live, especially just an acoustic rendition!

After Ambulance Blues, he played a song that I wasn’t particularly sure of, but after that, another complete shocker – A Man Needs A Maid! This is another early song, from Harvest in this case, but a very odd one, one which my dad thinks has particularly dire lyrics and isn’t really a great song – naturally I disagree! The album version of this has a complete cinematic/movie soundtrack orchestra beginning and interlude occasionally, which is why I didn’t really expect to hear it being played. For these mythical parts of the song, Neil used a small synthesized keyboard perched on top of his yellow and pink baby grand piano to amazing effect. This tiny thing sounded impressively good, and the whole switching between the two instruments mid-song was wonderful! After another unbeknown song to me, Neil launched into some classics from the early days – Harvest (from Harvest), After The Gold Rush (from the album of the same name) and Mellow My Mind (from Tonight’s The Night, not THAT early an album!). These Neil Young classics were presented skilfully – and unnervingly as good as the originals, with the high pitched vocals of After The Gold Rush cutting through the cool dark air of the auditorium. This also had very nicely altered and relevant lyrics – “Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st Century”. After another unknown song, I was treated to more classics from After The Gold Rush and Harvest in the form of Don’t Let It Bring You Down, Heart Of Gold and Old Man, bringing the acoustic set to an end. Overall, this was an unbelievable first half – with 4 songs from another of my favourite albums, Harvest, being played!

Before the second half, where Crazy Horse would join Neil to rock the rest of the evening away, there was a 30 minute break. This was probably needed owing to the fairly high average age of the crowd, and Neil Young too! When thinking about what songs might be played beforehand, I was fairly sure that I wouldn’t know too many from the second half, as I never really got that into Chrome Dreams II and Ragged Glory, and I don’t even have Rust Never Sleeps. But from the songs that he played, I was pleasantly surprised (yet again!). Mr. Soul kicked off the second half. This was announced as such by a painting being put up displaying the song title – which was very useful considering I had only heard some songs a few times on live albums. Dirty Old Man, from Chrome Dreams II was played after, which was a fairly incredible performance with Neil playing some sweet lead guitar and absolutely spot on vocals! One song played in the second half that I was particularly looking forward to and wasn’t sure if he’d actually play it was Down By The River. To my complete surprise and enjoyment – he did, with an absolutely sensational instrumental/solo section and awesome backing vocals for the chorus. Some of the next few songs were good, but to be honest I didn’t really recognise many of them – apart from Hey Hey, My My of course. A huge surprise came when he played No Hidden Path from Chrome Dreams II. Along with Ordinary People, No Hidden Path was one of those songs that you’d think would never be played live, mainly due to their length and what could be regarded as their album filler-like qualities by a cynic. Then again, this is Neil Young and he pretty much does what he wants when he playing – so an obscenely drawn out 20 minute version of No Hidden Path resulted. This was an incredible performance, with some wild solos and anthemic choruses. The tall, slightly stooped over figure of Neil hunching over his guitar ripping out solos was an image to remember.

You could slightly tell that with such a long song as No Hidden Path, the set was nearing the end. Sure enough, when the epic chorus had died down for the last time, the stage was vacated. But no-one was going to leave without an encore, and what an encore it was! Another song on my list of ‘songs that he probably won’t play but I’d like him to’ was Fuckin’ Up from Ragged Glory. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t expect him to play this, but I’m really glad that he did! As soon as the drum intro came in, accompanied a bar later by that signature guitar riff I knew that I was in for yet another treat. Some other folk in the audience however didn’t really appreciate either a) more grunge/modern Neil Young or b) the foul language in this song, so as a result they didn’t look particularly impressed. Not cool. Finally, to finish off a stellar evening of music, the 1969 classic – Cinnamon Girl! Yet again, I was so overjoyed at his amazing choice of the classic songs that he was playing, and what better song could he have played to finish off than Cinnamon Girl?

From looking at Neil Young at the start of the gig, he looked pretty old, I’m not going to lie there, but at any point, if I even dared to do so, I should never have assumed that he was incapable of rocking out in the way that he did! He was and still clearly is incredible and just has to be seen live in order to appreciate his magnificence.

On a final note, there were some other songs that I wished that he might possibly have played, which he unfortunately didn’t. These included:
Cowgirl In The Sand
Cortez The Killer
Needle And The Damage Done

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