There is a town in north Ontario and that is where we find Neil Young at the outset of Neil Young Journeys.
The town is Omemee, where it all started for the rock legend in the late 40s, and it looks different to him in May 2011 when hes cruising around in a 1956 Crown Vic with filmmaker Jonathan Demme.
Im a little confused as everything seems to be in a different place than it was before, he says, in the borrowed car. Thats because I was so small. Everything looked different.
At 66, Neil Young has a lot more mileage on him, but amazingly enough, hes as potent a performer as he was in his early concert films, like Journey Through the Past and Rust Never Sleeps.
This third film with Demme documents his two-night stand at the famed Massey Theater in Toronto on his tour for Le Noise, wherein he eschewed side musicians and stripped the music down to its raw essence. The sound is exquisite and the vocals are vintage Young: a warm, crackling fireplace, a comfy old shoe pick your metaphor.
He does a half-dozen songs from Le Noise, including the feedback- and reverb-drenched Sign of Love and Hitchhiker, a tour de force that he had been kicking around since 1975 he had to live and love a little more before he could write the end. He seethes on Ohio as if it happened yesterday, makes Down by the River simmer with danger and will give you chills (if you think about Kurt Cobain) on a pained My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue). Young devotees will have to come here (or, OK, YouTube) to hear Leia, a slight, sweet unreleased piano ballad.
Demme finds all sorts of creative angles from which to capture the action, including attaching the camera to the mic stand, putting us right into Neils scratchy beard. For After the Gold Rush, the camera is in the pump organ showing us a sliver of the artist.
The film is framed and the songs are interspersed with visits to his old stomping grounds. He points out the town hall, where he notes, I think I killed a turtle in front of this place by sticking a firecracker up its ass and lighting it, as children will do so my environmental roots are not that deep.
Journeys runs just under 90 minutes, with 13 songs, and leaves you wanting more and actually there was more, as those Massey Hall shows ran on for 17 songs each. Clearly, theres some extra footage to be had, perhaps for the DVD.
In any case, what you get is conceived beautifully by a talented, music-loving director and a fierce artist who refuses to burn out.