photo via the Muzikspy
Madison Square Garden
Monday, December 15
Pity the bros stuck in the assigned seats ’cause down on the Madison Square Garden floor, it was a real rock show. While Neil Young shredded and warbled for two-and-a-half hours, dudes passed out down there (one during the stoner-doom jam of “Cortez the Killer”) and security guards sang along. Also Pity the bros confined comatosely to their chairs because the pace of Young’s night–silver shrapnel jams from an eight-foot (!) Magnatone amp, classic strums, and long stretches of plodding songs about fuel-efficient cars–was well-served by being able to wander. That’s exactly what Young did musically with his non-Crazy Horse combo.
“We’re auditioning for our old record company,” Young told the crowd, instructing them to “make a shitload of noise” for new songs, “whether you like them or not.” (Which would explain the half-formed/half-rap seemingly titled, “Cough Up the Bucks.”) Laid back to the point of comedy, at one point, a mustachioed roadie wandered out, added banjo to “Old Man,” and disappeared. Young also delivered an elegiac new number elegiac new arrangement of 1990’s “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem),” totally solo on the rear-stage organ, with its impossibly heavy-handed lyrics about “freedom land” and “respect[ing] Mother Earth and her giving ways.” It got big cheers. What also got big cheers: “Cinnamon Girl,” specifically when Young did that thing where rock stars walk to one side of the stage and play directly at a section until goes apeshit and finally stands up. It worked.
Later, he tore ass through “Cowgirl in the Sound” “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” (with two or three false endings and a new verse about “man of the people sayin’ ‘yes we can'”). The onslaught continued with Young’s encore of “A Day in the Life,” which concluded when Young ripped the strings off his guitar, and beat them against his pick-ups while harmonizing with his wife Pegi. (It was, coincidentally, the same harmony-in-noise strategy, employed by opening act Wilco during the first song of their impeccable set, “Via Chicago.”) In the squall, Young left the stage. A moment later, “A Day In the Life” still ringing, he materialized behind the vibraphone, like Gonzo at the end of the Muppet Show, to play the song’s famous resolving chord. And, like a Muppet, he disappeared. – Jesse Jarnow