Performer: Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Ragged Glory
Definitive Version: Live in Rosemont, 2008
Performer: Porcupine Tree
Songwriter: Steven Wilson
Original Release: Fear of a Blank Planet
Definitive Version: Atlanta, 2010
I mentioned Anesthetize earlier, but it has to have the full a/b treatment. I have it here, because it’s so new to me, but it probably should go higher.
For years, as I got older, I continually threatened to “retire” from attending big arena shows. It’s not so much my agoraphobia—I don’t like big crowds—but the hassle as well as the prices. By the time I left The Dispatch, I had seen everyone I had wanted to see with three exceptions—Radiohead, who never came to Columbus; Robbie Robertson, who never tours; and Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
In 2003, while I was in Cleveland, Debbie surprised me for my birthday with tickets to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse—yes, even though she was living with someone else—at Polaris. Awesome, or at least so I thought until the show.
What I didn’t know—like most people there, I would suspect—was Neil was playing an entire album that hadn’t been released yet. The show was two hours of WTH and 20 minutes of reward for not rioting. It would’ve been a great experience a.) had I known it was coming and b.) had it been in a club for $25 rather than an arena for $60. (Yes, I know: I didn’t pay anything, but work with me here.)
After seeing Neil with CSN for the third time in 2006—it was an OK, not great, performance—I realized I still wanted to see him tour behind solo material, even if he didn’t want to have anything to do with Crazy Horse again. After all, he owed me. When I saw Neil was going to be in Chicago—Rosemont, specifically—in December 2008 with what he called “his electric band,” I was intrigued.
But I wasn’t taking any chances, so I did something I NEVER do before I bought the tickets: I went online to find a setlist from an earlier leg of the tour. Yes, this would spoil the surprise of hearing the songs, but I wasn’t about to lay out $150—this time I was buying—without some indication that I wouldn’t waste my money. Satisfied, I made the purchase.
Because the show was at the arena formerly known as the Horizon, the best plan of action was for me to drive from work and meet Laurie at the L, like we had done with Tool a year before. We would go to Chipotle for dinner and then see the show. Neil had not one but two warm-up acts, so we had plenty of time.
The day of the show, however, a big winter storm hit, and the roads were a mess. I got to the show way later than expected thanks to an icy freeway. In the meantime, Laurie hiked over to a nearby Subway to get sandwiches for both of us, which we’d eat in the car as we sat in traffic to get into the parking lot.
Well, we would have, had there been any traffic. I’d never seen the Horizon parking lot so empty. Only a couple of stands were open and the lot quickly was being covered in snow.
Inside, you could see clearly the demarcation between the cheap seats ($65) and the next level of seats ($120) in the upper bowl. The rows around where our seats were, including our row, were full. The rest of the section in front was almost entirely empty. I thought that the storm might have had something to do with this, but I found out later that a lot of people were loathe to pull the trigger after being similarly burned by the Greendale experience in 2003.
Well, what the hell. I told Laurie, let’s just move up a couple rows. When someone comes, we’ll just move. No one came, and interestingly, no one else moved down to the mostly empty seats, so we stayed there the whole show.
When Neil hit the stage, two things were immediately noticeable: First, he wasn’t wearing a hat. I’d seen him four times up to then, and the only time he didn’t wear a hat—with CSNY in 2000—he burned the place down. The three other times were more subdued. It’s as though a hat keeps him under control.
The second thing was the first song. It was this song, followed by Hey Hey, My My, Everyone Knows This is Nowhere. When Neil then launched into Powderfinger, it was obvious to everyone that this show wasn’t going to be anything like the Greendale experience.
He was rocking hard and had a painter in the back of the stage creating abstracts seemingly almost every song. It was typical Neil abstract concert performance art. The highlight of the night came on the sixth song, when he played my favorite solo song (SPOILER ALERT) Cortez the Killer. Let me clarify that: He played a mind-bending 15-minute version of Cortez that burned the place down.
At one point midway through the epic, Laurie announced that she had to go to the bathroom but couldn’t pull herself away. When it ended, she said, OK, I’m going now … right as soon as he cranked up Cinnamon Girl. Oh crap, she said, stopping in her tracks, I can’t leave now. The next song was an obscurity, so she was released.
The show was everything I had hoped it would be. The only thing missing was Crazy Horse’s raggedness and, well, OK, I would’ve traded Like a Hurricane for Cowgirl in the Sand at the end, but you can’t have everything.
Last year, of course, Neil reunited with Crazy Horse. I didn’t go, because his appearance in Chicago coincided with Laurie and me being in Italy. That's the way it goes, but in truth I didn’t need to go. After the 2008 show, as far as I was concerned, I considered the debt had been paid in full.