I finally got to see Neil Young. (After waiting years and years) He was like a lightening bolt on stage. Definately one of the most passionate musicians I've ever seen live. His guitar solos were amazing, and his vocals were one of a kind.
I had mixed feelings about the new album. I still kind of do. (Not so much the message but the quality of the songs) But one thing's for certain: it's energized the heck out of Neil Young.
It was sort like seeing three shows: The Living With War Tour, CSN's Greatest Hits, and the Neil Young powerhouse tour.
The best part of the show for me was seeing Neil Young perform "Only Love Can Break Your Hear" with just him playing an upright piano and David Crosby and Graham Nash singing harmony vocals. Just amazing.
Neil's two other show-stoppers were "Ohio" and an incredible "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" with Neil and Stephen Stills dueling it out on guitar. Some of the most memorable guitar playing I've ever seen live. Neil also played a great guitar solo during "Deja Vu."
As for CSN - Graham Nash was great. He is a highly underrated songwriter IMHO. "Our House' sounded note perfect, and one of his newer songs called "Milky Way Tonight" was pretty solid. In fact, of CSN, he's the only one that's displayed any great songwriting ability as of late. If you take out Graham's songs and Neil's songs from Looking Forward, you aren't left with much at all. "Teach Your Children" was good, but not spectacular. Just a stroll through one of the hits. Same for Stephen Stills' "Southern Cross."
Stills was great on guitar, but it was kind of sad seeing how overweight he has become. As good as his guitar playing was, it was almost funny watching an over-weight, balding hippie trying to "rock out." Same for David Crosby. I wish both of them would take better care of themselves. Neil, on the other hand, looked perfectly natural. Anyway, some of Stephen's better numbers live were "Carry On," "Treetop Flyer" (w/just Neil backing him up), his cover of the Booker T Jones song "Ole Man Trouble," and "For What It's Worth." His vocals sounded great on "Ole Man Trouble." Very soulful. And to see Neil and Stephen perform "For What It's Worth" together on stage was quite a treat.
David Crosby still sounded good. He was particularly good on "Guinnevere" with just Graham Nash backing him up on vocals. That reminded me of seeing Simon and Garfunkel perform an almost perfect version of "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme" a couple of years ago.
It was kind of interesting to see the "Freedom of Speech" tour just outside of Washington, DC. I strolled by the White House a few hours before the concert. Lots of folks were outside picketing in support of Lebanon and Palestine. It's great that they have the freedom to do so in America. It's unfortunate that many people living under totalitarian regimes don't have that freedom.
Now for the protest songs. After having listened to LWW a several times since its release, I've really grown to appreciate a couple of the songs, but much of the album just seems average to me. I wish Neil had spent a bit more time working on the songs. I know he wrote "Cinnamon Girl,' "Cowgirl in the Sand," and "Down By the River" all in one afternoon. I wish these songs were as good. A couple of them are great. "Roger and Out" and "The Restless Consumer" are two of the best songs he's written in the past decade. Before singing "Roger and Out" he said, "There are lots of different ways to return home from a war." "Flags of Freedom" is a descent rewrite of Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" and it was a pretty good choice to open the concert with.
The title track and "Shock and Awe" seem mediocre to me, and they weren't any better live. Neither was "Families."
"Let's Impeach the President" has actually grown on me. Particularly the line "...and bend the facts to fit with their new stories Of why we had to send our men to war." Because that's exactly what's been happening since day one. I'm sure I'm not the only person that thought Iraq might have had WMDs after we were told that by Bush and Blair. Now Bush says he would have "probably" gone into Iraq regardless of whether they had them or not. I just wish that Bush had been honest about everything from the very start. The cover-up is always worse than the crime. Especially when you are dealing with human lives.
Neil performed the song with CSN behind a huge microphone like the over-sized equipment on the "Live Rust" tour.
The most moving protest song, however, was "Find the Cost of Freedom." They all four sang it acoutically with pictures of all of the fallen U.S. soldiers in Iraq behind them. Unfortunately freedom does come with a cost, and you always have to determine whether or not these wars are worth the "cost." I don't think this war in Iraq has been worth the cost at all. But most importantly, I don't' think it's advanced our freedom at all. It would be nice if it advanced somebody's freedom, but I'm afraid it hasn't even done that. Saddam was a brutal dictator, but the way things are going we'll be lucky if he isn't replaced by a fanatical religious leader or another dictator.
One of the greatest things about the concert is that there wasn't any preaching between songs or anything. They all let the songs speak for themselves.
The main thing I took away from the concert is that Neil Young is still one of the most relevant and energetic performers of his generation. CSN would have been mediocre at best without him. But he really provides a spark. I think his presence alone made the other three perform better. He's notoriously uneven, but when he's on he's on. This night he was on.
And in the end...