Hitchhiker On The Road (Godfather Records GR 534/535)
Hanover Theater, Worcester, MA, May 21, 2010 – Twisted Road Tour, 1st Leg. Bonus track from Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Buffalo, New York, May 19, 2010.
Disk 1 : My My, Hey Hey ( Out of The Blue ) / Tell Me Why / Helpless / You Never Call / Peaceful Valley / Love & War / Down By The River / Hitchhiker / Ohio
Disk 2 : Sign Of Love / Leia / After The Gold Rush / I believe In You / Rumblin’ / Cortez The Killer / Cinnamon Girl / Walk With Me / Heart of Gold / Bonus Track : My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue )
In The ever changing world of Neil Young then there is still one constant – you never quite know where he’ll be going next – Having taken on Bert Janch as touring partner & support act, Neil took to the road again in 2010 with a clutch of new tracks ( indeed Neil is quoted as saying “I had 5 or 6 songs but then I just didn’t want to stop writing” ) & a brace of archival songs for a solo tour – shorn of the band that he employed last year for his electric sets this is an intimate affair between us & him.
Neil has been snubbed a little for the shorter than usual sets for a higher priced ticket & the fact that he introduced 8 new songs – they should think themselves lucky they haven’t come for the “Tonight’s The Night” tour were, as legend has it, after playing the full, unheard album would ask the audience if they wanted to hear some old songs & then would proceed to play that very same album again .. Despite the press reportage as to what would behind these shows then Neil wasn’t giving anything away – indeed in the foyer you could purchase a tee-shirt printed with the legend ‘They Said Acoustic, I Said Solo’ Ever the bullish type then, even after all these years he still has a ton to say & he wants to look you right to the whites in your eyes & tell you what’s on his mind. The sound is almost comparable to that of the Crystal Cat releases from Paris, 2008. It could almost be a soundboard but the audience noise is a reminder that you’re still in their line of fire.
The set steps up with a beautiful rendering of “My My, Hey Hey ( Out Of The Blue )” on acoustic guitar. It’s revered right from the start as the crown are respectfully pleased with this choice & show their appreciation at certain classic Neil lines throughout the song & Neil stirs up quite some excitement when the harmonica is introduced. “Tell Me Why” is also rendered acoustically – possibly taking props from Bert, Neil feels that rather than rattling teeth at the start then he’ll walk in to proceedings with a gentler approach. He says his first words to the crowd after his once the applause dies down “How You all doin’ out there?” to which one of the more eager audience members shouts back “How you doin'”. Neil retorts with a slightly weary “We’ll see .. ” to yet more appreciation. Back to the archives & Neil then pulls out the early CSNY track “Helpless”.
Possibly mindful of the anniversary of this track & others within his set Neil does them justice. This is a near perfect replication of the part he played in the original & it’s outing here fits exactly with the atmosphere within the hall. Barring a few hoots, hollers & an attempted applause then the audience are peaceful enough to let the song spill from the speakers. Without introduction we’re then treated to the first new track of the evening – Possibly geed on by Bert’s moodish & sombre style, the song follows a very Brit-folkish style of playing. “You Never Call” is a semi – autobiographical letter to Neil’s friend, film maker & producer Larry ‘L.A.’ Johnson who passed away only 5 months earlier while preparing to go to a Hockey match with Neil’s son Ben.
Young sings that heaven is “The ultimate vacation with no back pain” possibly referencing the troubles that he’s had with his back since his accident in the early 1970’s. It’s a return to form for Young after his “Fork In The Road” LP from the previous year & it hints back to the sound of “Prairie Wind” at what could very well turn out to be the third album of the “Harvest” tritych. Bleakly funny but endearingly close it reads almost as a toast to his dear friend “Peaceful Valley” is another new song & just like the song “Cortez The Killer” ruminates upon the disturbance of the peace for the native Indians of America & touches on the ecological bent that Young has held the mantle for, for a good long while. We have here another Eastern styled guitar peace & It’s flourishes are nothing but Beatlesque in places. “Love & War” follows & is again from the “Hitchhiker” album.
It follows the previous two songs by way of style although this track has a slight Spanish flavour instead. It has a hint of the anti war symbolism that Young heralded on his “Living With War” album although it’s not as strident in it’s views & mainly follows the artist & his attempt to get to the heart of the problem that he faced when presenting the “Living With War” album to his audience & how although he alienated a few of his fans by saying it but then he’ll continue to sing about those two subjects. Turning to grab his electric guitar he silently brings out a familial & crowd pleasing “Down By The River”. Even though it’s sheered of it’s harmonies & powerful bass it certainly doesn’t lose any of it’s menace or wistfulness & retains the circular groove that echos throughout the song that’s given prominence via that riff. Back to the new album next & we’re still with Old Black.
“The Hitchhiker” is a furious, Gonzo brother to “The Loner” documenting a life lived through experimenting with drugs & seeing the bright lights of the world. Along with the joy of experimenting comes the disillusion of reality not lived through rose tinted spectacles. “Ohio” is celebrating is 40th anniversary this year. It’s message never seems to dim & people tend to give it’s own credence despite it’s lyrics pinpointing the very event it was written about. Famously written, recorded & released in weeks as a rolling news message – one of the first & something Neil has held to his heart ever since wether it’s releasing an album every year to show the direction that he’s running in ever 12 or so months or simply by recording an album within weeks of it’s release date & letting it unfold before the eyes of the public, things retain their urgency.
Starting disk 2 is “Sign Of Love” – a new song that almost sounds like a fusion of “Cinnamon Girl” & “The Star Spangled Banner” played out by Jimi Hendrix if you squint with your ears. This written for a different woman than the former as Neil is singing about himself and Pegi. A paean to growing old together & the love that flows through those old veins. A song that shouts it’s love from the rooftops. Feeling a little less restrained by the reception of the newer tracks Neil opens up “I’ve got a new hat .. i’m not wearing it tonight .. feel a little more comfortable in this old hat”. Turning to piano He then goes on to introduce another new song about a “New friend” or a “Song about a little girl, she’s very tiny .. So don’t scare her away with any boisterous behavior” “Leia” is almost childlike in it’s way. A piano line scuttles along gently, the lyrics are of a Grandfatherly love.
An all encompassing glow that only people of an autumn generation could specifically imagine. Over to pump organ for the next classic – a warm, waltzing “After The Gold Rush” – One of Neil’s first eco songs with the Mother Nature line ammended to the “21st Century”. The Pump organ is ( thankfully ) only used for one track tonight when Neil turns to grand for the second ‘After The Goldrush’ era track & the quiet, shimmering “I Believe In You”. Neil hits the falsettos for all their worth tonight & it resonates stunningly around the hall sounding, for all it’s worth, like a choral hymn to God. “Rumblin'” finds Neil back on electric again & another ecological song about Mother Natures distaste for the knocks that Mankind has given her over the years.
There’s an ill – wind blowing, Neil can feel it, can you? The song finishes with a grumbling feedback that moves the room, dark lining the message that Neils just written. “Cortez The Killer” comes after a lengthy monologue ( the longest tonight ) with Neil thanking the audience, throwing props for Bert Janch & describing his duration in a “flop house” in Toronto with a few of his friends listening to Bert’s records & getting stoned. The crunch & groan of “Cortez .. ” perfectly sets the tone of the track, steam rolling through the house, pouring out the message of his contempt for the Spanish conqueror. The riff of a career takes center stage next “Cinnamon Girl” never fails to excite but the audience remain respectful to Neil ( And the taper .. ) by never getting over excited, clappy or shouty while Neil peals out shakey solos & discord from Old Black. While we thought we might be in encore safety Neil switches to White Falcon for “Walk With Me” the final new track for tonight.
You wouldn’t get as much sturn und drang from a field full of electricity. This is a death heavy rouse from the inner center of Neil’s soul & nails the “Godfather Of Grunge” testament. If it doesn’t make the final cut ( or even the final track ) of the new album then something has been sorely mistaken – a definitive highlight of the evening. Once the dust settles, Neil says his farewell & leaves us with “One for the road”. The evergreen ‘Heart Of Gold”. The audience capture this as a chance to sing along which they, politely, do. Whispering harmonies for Young like a ghostly choir.
The bonus track “My My, Hey Hey ( Out Of The Blue )” is in the same quality from the rest of the tape. An intimate affair once again although the crowd is a little more excitable this time round & lets face it .. This is Neil Young. The teller of truths & the all seeing eye. This is one King that still lies & certainly won’t be forgotten.
The packaging is The Godfathers exemplary best featuring multiple shots of Young’s show. Sitting down, standing up, using His multiple guitars, his piano & the pump organ. His backdrop this year looks like the inside of the caves of Gibraltar scattered with various artifacts of American history. The bright, stark font is sympathetic to the artwork too & the set list is laid out on the back including the instruments that each track is played with including the different guitars used.
It’s a brilliant testament to this tour & a fantastic new new album to come. An honest to goodness, down right, must have.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)Neil Young - Hitchhiker On The Road (Godfather Records GR 534/535),