by Guest Writer Brady Newbill
Often times over the course of my life when I’ve sought some kind of peace of mind or understanding in this chaotic reality, I have found such solace in the almost hypnotically wise and natural music of Neil Young. And so a few months ago when I saw the announcement that Neil would be doing a solo show at the Seminole Hard Rock, I threw up in my mouth a little bit. For the Seminole Hard Rock, as I already knew, is the very antithesis of anything natural, pure or wise; and therefore the environmental antithesis of everything I feel when hearing Neil Young’s music. But I went anyway, simply because I had never seen Neil live before and after spending the majority of my life missing him due to circumstantial or financial reasons, I was ready to see him anywhere at anytime….just to see the man.
And so in the weeks leading up to the show I became increasingly excited, feeling a strength in the force upon the imminent arrival of a true Jedi master (it should be understood at this point that one of the only ways outside of Neil Young’s music to draw understanding of the world for me is to realize life as a never-ending series of Star Wars references). The disturbance of having to infiltrate the Seminole Hard Rock (aka “the house” or “the Death Star”) was especially eased on the way to the show when I learned that American musical treasure Allen Toussaint would be opening. “Wow”, I thought as we were sitting in traffic, “that might actually be enough Jedi purity to counterbalance the power of the Dark Side emitted from that God-less epicenter of materialism, superficiality, and greed.”
We walked in a couple of songs into Toussaint’s set and sat in our seats in the front row of the third level, mysteriously facing away from the stage with three steel bars directly in our line of vision. “Oh this is nice,” I thought, “I didn’t actually want to see the stage anyway.” Concerts are always much more enjoyable when you wake up with a sore neck the next day. But that wasn’t my real problem here. Allen Toussaint, musical genius and historic bridge between jazz and rock & roll, is on stage alone at a piano singing songs and telling stories. And that is a wonderful situation completely lost on this crowd- talking throughout his set and even at one point, in the middle of a story, almost boo-ing him off the stage. I was disgusted and ashamed of my hometown crowd- seemingly unwilling to give anything they don’t hear on Big 106 every day a chance to teach them something.
After Toussaint’s set we got up and explored, eventually winding up in VIP seats right behind the soundboard in a security breach brilliantly executed in Jedi-esque fashion by my brother Travis. “Maybe this will make it all better,” we thought. And it didn’t hurt. So the house-lights go out and lights of deep blue and purple illuminated a stage resembling a sorcerer’s den, complete with multiple guitars, a psychedelically painted piano, an antique pipe organ, and what seemed to be several totem poles. On walks Neil Young (“Obi-Wan”), wielding his acoustic guitar and harmonica brace (Light-saber). I instantaneously felt a great calm come over me- for the force was still with us after all. Neil sat down on a stool stage-center and hit us with an opening trilogy of “My My, Hey Hey” “Tell Me Why” and “Helpless”- the hush that came over the crowd was astonishing. Had Neil really destroyed the wicked-ness of the Hard Rock that easily? He continued with a few songs from his still yet-to-be-officially-released-but-available-for-stream-online album “Le Noise” with a special guitar made for him by producer Daniel Lanois that brought a heavy bass drive to these otherwise acoustic-based tunes with Neil’s voice (which by the way sounds as good today as it did 40 years ago on 4-Way Street) delivered poignant lyrics and lessons on subjects as important as coping with personal drama within a world of disarray, as well as autobiographical history lessons and tales of the struggle of displaced Natives as he does best- all interspersed with such sing-a-long mega-hits as “Ohio” and “Down By The River” surprisingly holding the attention of most of the crowd.
He continued with a brief tour of the stage, starting at an electric piano for a new unreleased song which inevitably sent the crowd either to the bathroom, bar or into a talking frenzy. Suddenly the show was plagued by drunken bullshit talking drowning out the music. If the guy talking beside me got up and left, the guy behind me would start talking. And here I was trying to hold my connection with Neil onstage as he moved to the ominous pipe organ for a psychoactive reading of “After the Goldrush” and to the baby-grand for a beautiful version of “I Believe in You.” The force was weakening. Neil felt it too. For the show then fizzled out with droning solo electric guitar reverby space versions of “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl” followed by a brief encore of “Old Man” and “Walk With Me”- the opening song to the new album, which proved to be the closer.
For the last five minutes he was onstage Neil turned around and filled the room with a barrage of feedback and droning distorted noises and simply walked off stage. I felt the same way, Neil. What can be done when the room has no atmosphere and the crowd is unwilling to connect? He did as Ken Kesey taught us- “just turn around and say fuck it.” There’s no use in fighting.
Between the monstrous display of human disgust in the surrounding complex, the constant talking, shoutings of “Neil! Woooo!” and the general lack of vibe coming from the crowd and venue, it seemed Neil had decided (and I agreed) that this room did not deserve “Expecting to Fly” or “Birds” or “Motion Pictures” or even anything from the “Harvest Moon” album when that very night saw the arrival of the actual Harvest Moon.
Feeling weird, we decided to take a tour of the surrounding facilities. It was the Death Star alright. The epitome of everything that’s gone wrong within the history of human civilization. We went to make our escape but I was halted by a vision of Obi-Wan Kenobi in his final showdown with Darth Vader- “throwing his hatred down” for a more cerebral and appropriate home in the vastness of the energy flowing through the conscious universe (the true home of a Jedi master) while letting the empire falsely believe it had won the fight.
And so, fellow troops- in a community becoming increasingly dominated by this seemingly unstoppable imperial monster; may the force be with us all. For, as our master displayed last night, this Jedi is holding a Broken Arrow.