Where The Action Is (Crystal Cat CC 974-75)
Where The Action Is, Stora Skuggan, Stockholm, Sweden – June 12th, 2009
Disc 1 (74:23): From Hank To Hendrix, Don’t Let It Bring You Down, Mother Earth, Comes A Time, Heart Of Gold, Old Man, Unknown Legend, Hey Hey My My (Into The Black), Mansion On The Hill, Pocahontas, Words, Cinnamon Girl, F*!#in’ Up
Disc 2 (79:03): Down By The River, Rockin’ In The Free World, Cowgirl In The Sand. Bonus tracks, Enmax Centre, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada – April 25th, 2009: Four Strong Winds. Magness Arena, Denver, CO – April 27th, 2009: Albuquerque. Sportpaleis, Antwerpen, Belgium – June 6th, 2009: Love And Only Love, Goin’ Back, I’ve Been Waiting For You, Like A Hurricane
Where The Action Is began in 2004 as a tour of Sweden for Swedish acts. The event took a break in 2007 and returned in 2008 as a one day festival in Stockholm. In 2009, Where The Action Is was scheduled as a two day event in the Stora Skuggan (Large Shadow) section of Stockholm. And like 2008 which had foreign acts such as the Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age, 2009 featured Nick Cave, The Pretenders and Neil Young as the headliner. (The festival took a break in 2010 but will resume in 2011 in Göteborg with Coldplay headlining).
Neil Young and his Electric Band spent a month traveling around Europe. This was among several festival appearances, including the Primavera Sound 2009 Festival in Barcelona, the Norwegian Wood Festival in Oslo and the final day in Europe at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London.
Crystal Cat use what must rank as one of the best sounding audience recordings ever to see the light. It is clear, detailed, and sounds better than most official releases.
The set starts very relaxed and low-key. It’s not only because Young plays the first two songs, “From Hank To Hendrix” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” solo on acoustic guitar, but the first half of the set is taken at a very languid pace. The band come out for the third song “Mother Earth.” Young plays the pump organ on the piece, producing pastoral sounding drones under the song’s melody.
“Comes A Time,” “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man” are given heavy country and western overtones with his wife singing back up vocals and Ben Keith’s pedal steel guitar. Young introduces his electric band (the only extended conversation with the audience all night) before “Unknown Legend.”
The true “electric” part of the show starts with “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black).” All the tunes in this part of the show drip with feedback and distortion. Even the hard rock arrangement of “Pocahontas” is not immune from such heavy-handed treatment.
One of the highlights is “Words.” Played only once in the seventies after it was released on Harvest, it is one of his most introspective, insightful and mature pieces of work. The refrain “Singing words, words between the lines of age / Words, words between the lines of age” is more effective now that he’s in his mid-sixties.
“Down By The River” lasts for close to thirteen minutes but sounds strangely muted and out of place. Young’s solo sounds like the one he plays for “Southern Man,” but there’s no climax before the song peters out.
It’s the opposite, however, for “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Lasting almost fifteen minutes, it’s played with fire and passion while Young solos at will. Even though the references in the lyrics are dated by more than twenty years (does anyone remember “kinder and gentler nation” and the “thousand points of light”?), but the audience sing along to the chorus whenever it comes up.
A long jam on “Cowgirl In The Sand” is the encore to a good, but also quite safe, performance. Sentiments expressed on the Thrasher’s Wheat site wish that Young would be more adventurous in his European shows.
Crystal Cat fill the second disc with several rarities. “Four Strong Winds,” an unofficial anthem for Canada, was played at the Canadian shows in April 2009. “Albuquerque” from Tonight’s The Night was played five times in 2009. And finally four long songs from Belgium, “Love And Only Love,” “Goin’ Back,” “I’ve Been Waiting For You” and “Like A Hurricane” close out the release.
Where The Action Is is packaged in a double slimline jewel case. Crystal Cat utilize super glossy paper for the inserts with high definition photographs in the artwork. It’s one of the clearest printing jobs available. Overall this is great Neil Young release worth having.