The Worst Concert I Ever Attended
First, I have to say that Neil Young has been one of my favorite artists for decades. I own many of his vinyl albums, tapes and CDs, plus song books for guitar. So it is with regret that I must say that the concert I attended last night was the worst I've ever been to and the first I ever walked out of in disgust.
I bought the tickets back in April, expecting to hear Neil do some new material and some oldies. The week before the concert, I saw that he had done a sort of play, or narrative, with music.
The concert came with a book similar to one you'd get for a broadway show, sans ads. That should have warned me. No advertisers, probably because they wouldn't want ticket purchasers angry at them too. The "book" gave profiles of about 25 different characters in Greendale, the fictitious town Young created. No story, just character-- and not very interesting or engaging ones at that. But I read the whole book anyway. Why not, there was close to an hour wait between getting the stage set after the opening act, Lucinda Williams finished. I kept reading because I kept hoping it would get good, or better. But alas, it just kept going.
Finally, Young came out. Black cloth covers were pulled off two boxy stage prop houses and a raised stage about 12 by 12. There was a projection screen that I could only see a sliver of an edge of. I'd read in the review that the video was important to understanding the story. I thought it was my seating position which was of to one side. But no, I walked across the Tweeter Center venue and fully half the audience had a blocked view, because of the set design. This was really dumb. Why design a set that blocks the view of half the audience? I was going to write that the set designer should be shot. But Neil Young is given credit for set design. it wasn't enough for him to foist his writing experiment upon us. He had to also design the set.
Young started playing. Well, first he started talking, narrating the beginnings of the "story" .... I think. The sound system in this huge venue was not designed for easily amplifying spoken word. I couldn't hear most of what he was saying. Once he started singing, it wasn't hard. That's because there was so much repetition. Same with the notes. Almost every song had a four or five or six note "signature" that just kept repeating endlessly, and most songs were at least ten minutes long. Young would talk endlessly, then sing a boring new song that failed to find new ground.
I kept thinking that he'd written these songs for people who were really stoned on pot. Maybe they'd be satisfied with these minimalist intermissions from his narrations. And Young is not a good storyteller, not a good narrator. He's a great songwriter and singer. But it seems that when he tried to experiment with a play, at the audience's expense, he really bombed. When we walked out, about halfway through, there were droves of people who had already left or who were hanging around outside. We mentioned our dissatisfaction to some of the staff personnel and they said a lot of people were saying the same thing.
If this concert had been billed as a new experiment by Neil Young-- his try at creating a "Tommy" like the who did, and if I'd made an informed to choice to attend it, that would be fine. But I spent over $300 on four tickets (using my extra fee Get Access service to supposedly get better seats before the full offering of tickets went out to the masses. These were the highest priced seats they had. Needless to say, I am not renewing my Get Access contract for $60. It was not worth a penny, as far as I my experience went.) for a show that appeared to be a chance for Neil Young to play out one of his new hobbies-- playwriting. The thing is, he's not good at it. What could be seen was a not even as good as what you might see at a high school performance of an original work.
Years ago, I went to a conference where a famous scientist author was speaking. I'd always thought him to be brilliant and admired his work. But at the conference, the man was almost drooling, his mind was so gone. In the middle of the brief, disjointed lecture he was giving he announced that he had to get up and pee. He declared in his speech that he was the victim of his own drug abuse-- Ketamine, a short term acting hallucinogen, in this case. Young's performance reminded me of this and I wondered if he'd had a stroke, or was just fried, brainwise. But I don't think so. This is a different kind of situation. This is gall and hubris and ego, not brain damage.
If I knew Neil was going to give a conventional show, with a blend of new and old, I'd take another shot with him. But it wasn't fair to start selling tickets when the plan was for such a major digression from an ordinary performance. Bottom line; if you want to see Neil Young sing some sub-par songs interspersed between long, un-hearable narratives, go. Otherwise even if you only get ten dollars for your already bought tickets, sell them.
To be fair, here are some professional music reviewers' perspectives on the performance.
Here's a Boston Globe Review. Obviously this reviewer had better seats and was close enough to hear it better.
Here's a Providence Journal review Neil Young tries 'novel' approach
Hartford Courant Neil Young's Songs Form A Disjointed Concept Album
An Enthusiastic Review from Norwich CT Neil Young takes concertgoers on a trip though 'Greendale'
Rob Kall is editor of opednews.com and organizer/founder of the Storycon summit meeting on the art, science and application of story.