I had the privilege of seeing one of my all-time favourite musicians and heroes Neil Young on stage this month. It was my fourth Neil gig. On his Greendale tour – the first time I saw him – he had Crazy Horse with him, and it was a real treat to have his legendary band back again for this 2013 Alchemy tour.
I’ve read that quite a few people were disappointed with the concert because Young didn’t play enough material outside of his Crazy Horse records. He did do ‘Heart of Gold’, which was not released with Crazy Horse. But the tour was advertised as a “Neil Young and Crazy Horse” show – that’s exactly what we got. So why be disappointed?
It brings up the debate on what an artist owes the audience for the price of their admission. Isn’t buying a ticket to see an artist perform… just that? As long as they perform with conviction, haven’t they done their job? Seeing an artist like Neil Young – who is a legend in his own lifetime and continues to write fresh, influential and vital rock recordings – is, as I mentioned, a privilege. Does an artist owe the audience their most popular songs? The short answer is “no”. The slightly longer answer is “of course they fucking don’t”. For personal reasons, it’s momentous to see and hear an artist perform a song that you have some emotional connection with. But those moments are special and rare. Your admission fee does not guarantee them. You have no right to demand them.
To all the people that thought Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s show was “self-indulgent”, I’ll let you in on a little secret. All creativity is, by nature and definition, self-indulgent. Every live act you’ve ever seen is self-indulgent. The whole process of writing, recording and performing music is about self-indulgence. Every touring act is self-indulgent. Fair-weather fans, who buy tickets to see artists with the expectation they’ll hear all their favourite songs and have a nice little sing-along, need to pull their heads out of their arses. They need to get a grip on reality. They need to take a long walk through the hall of mirrors.
In the music business we have a word for people who go to a show with unreasonable and unfounded expectations, and then leave the show early and whinge to other people about it. The word is “scum”.
A memorable moment from the show was when my friend Mel Rule attempted to throw her bra on stage. Her first throw didn’t quite clear one of the uplights next to the foldback speakers, and was wrapped around its base. Neil didn’t see it. So a friendly cameraman returned the bra to Mel and I had an attempt. As Neil had left the stage for the encore break, I waited until he returned. I lobbed the bra and it landed right next to his feet. He smiled, picked it up, showed it to the band and then draped it over the end of his legendary axe “Old Black” (see above picture). It was a magic moment.
Here’s the review: Neil Young refuses to burn out or fade away