Neil Young – Brother Ben (Godfather Records GR 688/689)

Brother Ben (Godfather Records GR 688/689)

Teatro Smeraldo, Milano, Italy – December 5th, 1989

Disc  (47:19):  My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue), Rockin’ In The Free World, The Old Laughing Lady, Don’t Let It Bring You Down, Someday, Pocahontas, Crime In The City, Eldorado

Disc 2 (47:10):  Too Far Gone, This Note’s For You, The Needle And The Damage Done, No More, Hangin’ On A Limb, Heart Of Gold, Ohio, Rockin’ In The Free World, Powderfinger

Neil Young’s recordings in the eighties looked more like a polemic against the dominance of record companies over the freedom of artistic expression and attained a height of explicitness with “This Note’s For You.”  Only with the 1989 release of Freedom, which many called a “come back,” did he return to relevancy. 

The album was released in October, but many of the new songs were played live starting in January tour.  The first half of the year he toured the US, Australia and Japan with is then backing bands The Restless and The Lost Dogs.

In June he decided to tour solo, backed up only by Ben Keith and Frank Sampedro, beginning on December 5th at the Teatro Smeraldo in Milan.  According to the liner notes printed on the artwork, “The concert at Smeradlo Theatre in Milan is clearly sold out and the average attendance age is between twenty and forty years old, but there are also teenagers dotting around in the crowd. 

“Many have come from central Italy, some even from Sicily.  The hall is packed with people mumbling while watching a stage that’s strangely empty, no poles, microphones or amplifiers:  only an old, shabby vertical piano on the right.” 

Young beings the show alone, on stage, singing “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue),” his most recent hit “Rockin’ In The Free World” and several very old songs “The Old Laughing Lady” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.”  The audience love the old songs.  During “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” the people by the tape recorder start singing even before Neil! 

He greets Italy and brings on some old friends Keith and Sanpedro.  The most resonant songs of the night are the two played in the middle, “Crime in The City” and “Eldorado.”  Both are long songs (each over eight minutes) from the new album.  The former is extremely melodramatic and the crowd hangs on Young’s every word.  But the slower and contemplative “Eldorado” is, by contrast, and absolute masterpiece.  The colorful images underlined by the stark acoustic guitar arrangements create a mesmerizing experience much like Bob Dylan’s “Visions Of Johanna” in the mid sixties. 

The mood thankfully lightens up a bit with “This Note’s For You.”  In the second verse Neil sings that he’s not singing for “Roberta” and, afterwards, admits he has no idea who that is.  He tells the audience he’s seen the name Roberta on advertising in Milan and thought it might be for a car.  He asks the audience for help, but even they do not know who or what Roberta is. 

The latter part of the show contains two more new songs, “Hanging On A Limb” and the excellent “No More” along with classics such as “Needle And The Damage Done” and “Heart Of Gold.” 

An acoustic arrangement of “Ohio” and a reprise of “Rockin’ In The Free World” close the show.  The only encore is the solo version of “Powderfinger.”  The song is vague, obscure and spooky even in the more well known electric version found in the studio recording and Live Rust.  But the psychedelic images offset by the starkness of the guitar make the song even more unsettling.  It’s an excellent way to end the show.  

Brother Ben is a great release on Godfather.  It’s good to hear another show from this tour other than the popular Amsterdam tape from December 10th.  It comes packaged in their standard tri-fold gatefold sleeve with many photographs from the show and liner notes on the inside. 

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