Summer concerts? Meh. Summer in Boise is halfway over. Let’s talk fall.
Young, 70, hasn’t played in Idaho since a sold-out show in 2007 at the Morrison Center.
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Promise of the Real accompanied Young on his most recent studio album, “The Monsanto Years.” The band’s members include frontman Lukas Nelson and his brother, Micah — the twentysomething sons of Willie Nelson, who gigged at Outlaw Field last week.
Young and Promise of the Real have toured together since last summer, generating enthusiastic reviews for fresh setlists and long, incendiary performances. The scheduled music start time is 7 p.m. at Outlaw Field. Even with school in session by October, let’s hope things are allowed to run late.
Here’s a review I wrote of Young’s show Oct. 18, 2007, at the Morrison Center in Boise.
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Canadian Neil Young was starting to appreciate remote Boise, even if he couldn’t get his guitars figured out.
“This place is kind of like where I grew up,” Young told the sold-out Morrison Center crowd after fiddling with an instrument. “When I see all that open space out there from the hotel window, I feel pretty good.”
About 2,000 fans felt the same way Thursday, even if Young challenged them with a concert that was light on mainstream hits and heavy on record-crate digging. Young is touring in support of his best CD in years, “Chrome Dreams II,” the “sequel” to a 1977 album that was never released. The 61-year-old rock icon delivered an intimate 2-for-1 experience: one hourlong solo acoustic set, one hourlong electric full-band set. But ultimately, the unique, entertaining concert probably was a “Cowgirl in the Sand” or “Powderfinger” short of a knockout punch for many fans.
The night felt like a final dress rehearsal – no surprise considering this was the first stop on the tour. The Morrison Center’s terrific acoustics couldn’t alter that reality.
“Aw, that’s bad,” Young declared as he realized his guitar was out of whack during the first song, “From Hank to Hendrix.” Future blooper quotes included: “Let’s try that again,” as he tossed what appeared to be a bogus set list over his shoulder before “Harvest”; “Wrong, wrong!” prior to “Love is a Rose”; and “I can still play, kind of, but I can’t tune,” as Young feigned a back injury before “Spirit Road.”
The Idaho audience got a kick out of watching longtime guitar tech Larry Cragg scurry about trying to resolve these issues. (Or just maybe it was his name.) The concert’s lack of polish was actually endearing; it matched Young’s trademark ragged country-rock delivery, a style that has helped make him the second most influential songwriter alive.
Young’s acoustic set was truly personal. Fans shouted (in vain) for favorites and seemed ready to jump out of their seats at the sign of a familiar melody. More often, they were probably perplexed by choices such as the melancholy “Day and Night We Walk These Aisles.” (“I don’t hear anybody calling for this one, but that’s OK,” Young said.) But even if the tunes were unfamiliar, it was impossible not to get goose bumps watching Young sit in a chair and deliver his four-pronged attack of guitar, harmonica, vocals and crazy legs. His famously nasal voice was fragile and pure during three songs from the 1972 “Harvest” era. He played banjo during the countrified “Mellow My Mind.” And he ambled over to a piano for the set’s bombastic standout, “A Man Needs a Maid,” which was energized by odd, booming electric keyboard notes that vibrated like a swamp cooler.
After Young had whacked the last bit of harmonica spittle onto his leg, he raised a finger to signal he had one more song in the set: “Heart of Gold.” The hungry audience went berserk.
After a 20-minute intermission, the electric set rocked as expected. Joined by longtime collaboraters Ben Keith (pedal steel, dobro, guitar), Ralph Molina (drums) and Rick Rosas (bass), Young – dressed in a frumpy new outfit – quickly cranked out a biggie: “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.” As audience members helped sing the “la-la-las,” they definitely began wishing they could bring beer into this dang ritzy theater.
Then Young went back to lesser-known cuts. He and his band bashed through the new CD’s “Dirty Old Man” like they were half drunk and playing in a garage. Despite the song’s punk-rock perfection – it really is the true Godfather of Grunge track – many crowd members stared as if they hadn’t heard it. The reaction was similar for another “Chrome Dreams II” cut, “Spirit Road,” even though Young bounced around like a teenager. Fans did clap along to part of upbeat tune “The Believer.”
Young sprinkled in a story about seeing a Roy Orbison concert as a 12-year-old before performing “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” “Winterlong” and his lugubrious, harmonica-laced take on Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me.”
Then he dug into the set’s skull crusher: “No Hidden Path,” which is nearly 12 minutes on CD and 12 days in concert. Doing his vintage flop dance, Young guitar soloed, swayed and stumbled in self-indulgent bliss. What, there was an audience? Just when it seemed the jam would end … uh, nope. Eat more fuzz, people. (It should be noted that members of Boise band Built To Spill watched transfixed from the audience. Neil! Stop encouraging them!)
When the song finally thundered to a halt, Young received an enthusiastic standing ovation from much of the crowd. Long-winded noodler or not, all hail Neil!
“Here’s one for your mama!” Young declared as the two-song encore began with a gorgeous blast known as “Cinnamon Girl.” Then Young sat down at the piano for the soulful, mysterious “Tonight’s the Night,” which was propelled by Rosa’s minimalist bass groove.
When bows had been taken and the house lights came on, many fans still seemed confused. Men stood in front of their seats shouting, “Rockin’ in the Free World!?”
Not tonight. In its own quirky way, the show definitely rocked. The tickets – many priced at $134 – weren’t exactly free. And now it was time to venture back out into the real world.
Set 1 Acoustic
From Hank to Hendrix
Day and Night We Walk These Aisles
A Man Needs a Maid
No One Seems to Know
Journey Through the Past
Mellow My Mind
Love Art Blues
Love is a Rose
Heart of Gold
Set 2 Electric
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Dirty Old Man
Bad Fog of Loneliness
Oh Lonesome Me
No Hidden Path
Tonight’s the Night