As the first ATP ROK/Icelandic Music Review article, you can imagine that there might be a bit of pressure to get this right, and to that, I’ll say that attending this show makes the job easy. This article is dedicated to a man named Roy, and here’s why.
Considering that ROK is a fairly new entity, it’s been incredibly great get the kind of access to events as we have been getting. Prior to last night’s Neil Young show, we were informed that the guest list was full, which we of course can understand. Just the same, we had the ability for our photographer extraordinaire, Markus, to take photos, and so I asked him if he could take some notes for me, and said I would see him soon.
And then a man came up to me and gave me his ticket, for nothing.
Though I don’t recall the exact details, a man by the name of Roy was in the position of having to part ways with a ticket. As I wasn’t able to buy one (money’s tight for me at the moment), he at first offered to sell me his spare. I graciously said thanks, but that I’d have to decline. As soon as he had seen me saying goodbye to Markus, he rushed over and said, “Here, take it. Enjoy the show.” We stared at him, baffled. He soon walked away. I said to Markus,
“We gotta get this guy some beers.”
I splurged on some Gull’s and entered the venue, which, according to the ticket I had now received, placed me in the best spot in the house, so much so that I could literally shout over comments to Markus in the press area if need be. In minute’s time, I handed Roy his beers and said thanks, to which he modestly replied. “Thank you, enjoy the concert.” To the moment of authorship of this piece, I’m still struck by how my normally cold cynicism can be thawed out from time to time. I guess in general it’s nice to know there really is kindness in the world. Wherever you are, a sincere Thanks, pal.
A man with a guitar took to the stage, leaving ego at the door. There was no pretense; just tasteful playing, amp at his side, just a man with his instrument, his voice, and his talent. He offered excellent lyrics in English. I looked away to simply hear his voice, which had a very rich, rustic timbre. The audience was respectable; clapping in a way that fit with the feel of the music. I wondered if he was scared to be in front of all of these people, knowing that he was opening up for one of the seminal alternative musicians of the last half-century.
His guitar apparently had a very slight chorus effect chained up, which was quite nice to hear. He invited a friend, I believe a woman named Rúna, to harmonize with him on a few numbers, which I found very appealing, particularly for the fact that they sung in their native tongue. Following this track, Mugison played a Hendrix- like track which really got people moving. It was fitting, and appropriate, considering how most of the audience could easily be said to be of the Hippy persuasion – a nice change of pace to the monochromatic austerity of contemporary Icelandic fashion. Mugison wore a blue dress shirt with a white T beneath it, blue jeans, and nothing more. Fantastic.
“Every performer is a preacher” was sung at one point. That line really resonated with me; the audiences which grab on to a artist says so much about the spirit of the times. Hearing the man tune his guitar on stage reminded me of what it must have been like to attend a show in the 1960’s, a la a Cream performance. What a rarity in this tuner footswitching age. Back to standard tuning he went. His final track was about being tipsy. Can’t we all relate…he received a thunderous applause as the 16 bar blues which was played intermittently began. A really nice crowd heard it.
The lights dimmed, and guitar feedback began it’s creeping ascension into higher tones…to think I would now hear the man that arguably invented alternative rock in just a few short moments. What a life that man has had.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
As the volume turned up on that Telecaster, that lower E string howled. No bullshit. Just rock. I felt the stomping of the kick drum in my chest. A comfortable intimacy with Frank (rhythm guitar) was clear. The man rocked back and forth with a drive and power during that first number that made it clear just who exactly was in the house. We all patiently waited for the bar in Love And Only Love that would start lending us Neil’s voice for the night. “Let me feel the magic in my heart.” Hell yes, Neil. His face clearly wore the intensity of the song and the moment like a burning, emotive fury. The song ended with a big rock ending that I haven’t heard a band do in years. It was quite refreshing, actually.
The stage aesthetic was minimal; the only prop on stage was a carving of a native American, there waved a pirate flag for Ralph’s drums and a keyboard that would descend for Cortez the Killer later in the night.
All members of the outfit had excellent instrument tone – particularly Neil’s delay for his solos. Who would think such a simple addition would prove so effective to a rock track. His scratchy solos tear right into you. There were numerous guitar changes, particularly between the telecaster and a gorgeous yellow Hollowbody.
His banter was minimal and appropriate. ” Thank you for welcoming us in your beautiful country.” In reference to the purity of Icelandic water, “Now that’s a sponsor I can get behind.” A simple sort of honesty from a man who fought huge corporate forces with tracks like “This Note’s For You.” A man like this, as concerned with the environment as he has been, deserves to become an honorary Icelander.
Don’t Cry No Tears from Zuma was highly memorable. It clearly exhibited how comfortable these guys are playing with each other. This particular song has a bit of a fifties ballad feel to it. It’s a really beautiful number to hear live, particularly through the hallowbody.
Certain words over the course of the night just really resonated with me. For example, “Take a chance on love.” I mean, who can dispute that lyrics like that don’t just…I don’t know…resonate in your soul? They reflect a worn person’s experience in life…better yet, our experiences.
He makes me want to start a rock band…Songs like Love To Burn just speak so plainly about what a good rock song should consist of. Emotion. Meaningful lyrical content. A simple, bitchen riff revolving around familiar chord structures. Stuff I think we all love and can relate to.
The inclusion of backing vocals provided by a set of lovely ladies really boosted Neil’s intensity where necessary, particularly during his Zuma- era tracks that have a lot of vocal harmonies.
As the night went on, I decided to sit and listen, seeing him between some speakers on side, with a white silhouette lighting him up from behind. It was simple, effective, and intimate.
He soon performed his duties with an accoustic guitar. The first track he played really astonished me – Blowin’ In The Wind. A peer covering a peer of equal merit sat well, in a bit of a surreal way, as though I was timewarped back to the Newport Jazz Festival. Then I heard a familiar tuning on the guitar come into being…
Heart Of Gold. I’ve always thought this was a beautiful song. I sung and almost cried as I heard him playing it…”Am I really here” went through my mind constantly. Add that gorgeous harmonica solo and you’ve…you’ve just got it. It’s simply a timeless track; a genuine masterpiece for the ages. It’ll never be forgotten.
More Zuma tracks followed. They reminded me of late nights with my ex-girlfriend. It’s amazing how some songs can make you remember the past. He swayed with every track in a fluid, impassioned way. I guess the key to being able to do this for so long is to have fun while doing it.
“Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save The Earth?” had me thinking how rare it is to encounter people who haven’t abandoned their values, the way the world is going these days. You know…meeting real hippies, people who are a bit anachronistic in 2014. It’s nice hear from those who refuse to give up.
Especially during a track like “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World”, which holds a special place in my life. On September 10th, 2002, my then music teacher told us to bring in to class a song that helped us understand or cope with the attack a year prior. I picked the Pearl Jam rendition of that number, as I was a huge fan of grunge. Over twenty years since it’s first release, I’m still struck by how moving that song is, and how many artists it has affected. It’s message of acceptance, understanding and forgiveness are all too crucial, still. It also has a very tasteful guitar solo that goes on and on with grace. Can you believe that the man wrote this staple song in 1989, well after his “classic” era? An Incredible contribution from a man who just wears flannel, a t-shirt and a backwards hat on stage. Neil proves that you don’t have to have a groomed act to rock the place. In case you have forgotten, check this out. Neil Young and Pearl Jam – Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World
Following that song came five more 70’s numbers, including a double encore that featured After the Gold Rush and Cortez, which proved to me how this man’s work has influenced a diverse fanbase, young and old. There were soaring solos, pounding riffs, simple, effective melodies with emotionally charged lyrics. What more can anyone ask for. In a way, that’s describing Neil in a nutshell – a man with a guitar and a voice who when all is said and done, can still f-cking kill it.