SLCR #197: Neil Young w/Diana Krall (January 17, 2014)
"Should I get tickets to Neil Young?"
This was a trick question; not in how it was asked, but that it was asked at all. I asked it of my coworkers for whom shopping is something of a lifestyle. It's their favourite hobby. You might wonder how they can afford this, and if you did, I would point out that "returning things" is their second favourite. At any rate, I knew they'd say "yes," and sometimes I need a push.
I don't usually need a push when it comes to concert tickets. This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who has so much stuff, but I would much rather have experiences than things. However, this was not a particularly cheap experience - the two tickets were going to run us around $375 once you got the taxes and fees in there. And my history with Neil Young is relatively limited. Of course, I know he's a Canadian legend and I've heard most of his more famous songs, but I don't think I've ever thought "man, you know what I could really stand to listen to right now? Some Neil Young." But whatever, it's only money, I can always make more. And besides, Neil is, in fact, not young, so who knows how many more chances I'll get to see him? He also had Diana Krall as his opening act, and she's a pretty big star in her own right. Plus, the show was in the Conexus Arts Centre, a smaller concert venue (holds 2,000 or thereabouts) and not at a big hockey rink. And finally, this tour was for a good cause.
Yeah, so about that cause. This concert was one of four that were held across Canada to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is locked in perpetual legal fights against the federal government and the oil companies which aim to expand tar sands development, some of which could impact the band's traditional land and could have serious environmental consequences. Young took no payment for the shows, and the Honour The Treaties tour raised over $500,000 for the band's legal fund.
However, two of the shows took place in Regina and Calgary, major cities in oil-rich (and, let's be honest here, highly racist) provinces. This led to the concerts stirring up a giant mess of controversy, which was compounded by Young in several interviews where he did things like comparing the mine sites to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb hit. Newspapers were filled with angry editorials and letters. These were accompanied by shocking exposés (?) that revealed that the alleged environmentalist Young sometimes flies on private planes and that his tour buses were left running during the Calgary show, despite being empty. Also, Neil Young is a rock star, which apparently invalidates his opinions on any other subject.
I can't imagine anyone giving a damn about my opinion on such things, but I can't imagine you giving a damn about whether or not I thought a concert was any good and here you are, so: • No matter how much oil is still in the ground, it's a finite amount, so the priority really should be finding/improving alternate sources of energy. • If you're going to tell other people what to do, don't be surprised when they hold you to those standards. • If you're going to tell other people what to do, don't be surprised when they find reasons to not like you. • If you don't want to honour treaties, then you'd best renegotiate them instead of just doing whatever you feel like. • One person (or group of people) using wasteful transportation methods is a small problem; treaty rights, the environment, how much energy we (as a society) use, where this energy comes from, and what are the consequences - those are all big problems. • Small problems have a funny way of distracting people from big problems. • I really just wanted to hear Heart of Gold.
We got to the Conexus Arts Centre about a half-hour before the show began. I didn't get tickets right when they went on sale, so we missed out on the two seats at the end of the fabled Row L for Legroom. Not that I would have paid that much anyway - I choked a bit on the $375 and that only got us into the cheap seats. Based on the seating chart on venue's online ticketing system, I went for the two seats at the end of Row R, as it appeared to stand for Room, Leg. No such luck. Instead, we stood (and sat, and stood, and sat - that's what happens if you take the aisle seats and show up early).
We had initially tried to avoid that whole scene, thinking we could wait in the lobby until the show started. However, there was an unannounced opening act of sorts. From the lobby, we could hear someone talking so we took our seats. A Native man with a guitar - if he said his name, we missed it - was talking about the drive from the north to the show. He then brought out someone who I assume was a Chief - again, I didn't catch the name, but as soon as he walked out on stage, every First Nations person in the audience immediately stood up, followed by about two-thirds of the white people in attendance who were much more tentative about it.
I should note that despite the racial makeup of the province, this might be the first show I've ever attended where a significant percentage of the audience was First Nations. Many of them were wearing "Got Land? Thank an Indian" hoodies in support of a local student who was (briefly) banned from wearing the hoodie to school. I suspect we'll see some of those next month when A Tribe Called Red is at The Exchange.
Anyway, the man who I thought was a Chief spoke in a language I did not understand. I assume he was opening the evening with a prayer, because when he finished speaking, there was no applause - he just walked off and everyone sat back down. The guy with the guitar came back and sang a song which he dedicated to water. Then he left, at which point they dimmed the lights, closed the doors, and began the show in earnest.
I have never listened to Diana Krall. Apart from the fact that one time, she was a jerk to a friend of Mika's, I had always assumed that I would think "wow, that was very well done and not my thing at all." Sometimes I am right about things. She played some piano and sang some songs. No band, just her. She told a few stories and seemed kind of nervous when she talked. I was not familiar with the Fats Waller song Your Feet's Too Big but it was a delight. She also sang Don't Fence Me In, a song which has forever been ruined for me because I first heard it on the old Air Farce radio show and their lyrics - "give me fish, lots of fish, and a great big jug of beer / don't piss me off" - have always stuck with me for God-knows-what reason. These are the extent of my thoughts on Diana Krall.
I do have thoughts about the people who can't show up on time for things and make entire rows of people stand up to accommodate them. You know what those thoughts are. Furthermore, I have thoughts about the crabby lady who told the latecomers to wait until between songs to take their seats. Those thoughts consist primarily of high-fives.
I also have thoughts about people who hang out in the lobby, open the doors, look to see if Neil Young is playing yet, leave, and repeat this action every five minutes. These thoughts are like high-fives, only with a closed hand. So they're more like a fist-bump, but instead of hitting the other person's fist, you go for their face or balls.
We hung out in the lobby during intermission until, again, we could hear someone on stage. We came back to watch a drum circle, but this time we were smart enough to lean against a wall and not even bother with the sit-stand-sit-stand routine.
Finally, Neil Young took the stage. Again, no band - just him, two pianos, and a multitude of guitars. He told stories about both pianos and some of the guitars. Everything has a history.
I had always understood Young to be kind of, well, a cantankerous old grouch. I don't know if this is a commonly held opinion or just something I picked up somewhere. Instead, he was quite funny and seemed very laid-back and even a little self-deprecating. I was surprised at how likable he came across. And despite the cause he was promoting, there was no sermonizing during the show.
Young is 68. I know this from Wikipedia, as much as anyone can know anything that comes from Wikipedia. Despite his age, when Neil Young sings, he still sounds just like Neil Young, for better or worse - you decide which. Mika said she knew about half the songs he played; I did not. I can come up with a longer list of songs he didn't play: Harvest Moon, Hey Hey My My, Rockin' in the Free World, The Needle and the Damage Done, Cinnamon Girl. Luckily, Young is popular enough that someone out in the vast internets filled in a setlist of questionable accuracy for the less-informed of us: • From Hank to Hendrix • On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield) • Only Love Can Break Your Heart • Love in Mind • Mellow My Mind • Are You Ready for the Country • Someday • Changes (Phil Ochs) • Harvest • Old Man • A Man Needs a Maid • Ohio • Southern Man • Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield) • Pocahontas • Four Strong Winds (Ian & Sylvia) • Heart of Gold
Encore: • Comes a Time • Long May You Run
I will say that I had absolutely no idea what to make of A Man Needs a Maid. But the rest of the show was pretty great - very simple and stripped down. Just a guy, some songs, a few stories, and a completely devoted audience. I suppose you might have to expect that, given the ticket prices. Young got a standing ovation just for showing up. People yelled "thank you!" and "we love you!" and hooted and hollered for every song, especially the hits. It's a bit weird to greet Ohio with screams of delight. Maybe people don't know the words?
As for the effectiveness of the concert at getting his message across... well, he got people talking, so that's good. There's more shouting than talking and not enough listening, but that was pretty much a given. If nothing else, the environmental message gave us a big laugh when we were leaving the parking lot and found ourselves behind a giant Hummer.
UPCOMING SHOWS • A Tribe Called Red (Tuesday, February 18) • Mounties w/Rich Aucoin (Friday, March 28) • Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Wednesday, May 21) • Regina Folk Festival (Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10)
When I wrote the big long recap of the Jazz Festival (and, like, a million other things), my intent was to group a bunch of shows together so that I could keep each section relatively short. And I failed miserably. So I can see why you might be leery now....