To think I almost didn’t go to the show. I was going to skip it, not because I didn’t want to see Neil – but last time I saw Neil, in December 2006, I got permanent tinnitus in one ear from all his thrashing around, and I don’t think an hour and a half of Le Noise is quite what the doctor ordered. But when Dennis mentioned he wanted to go, it all seemed so silly to miss it. If my other ear was going to go, what better way to go out?
We got tickets for the Wednesday night show – the second of two shows he did at the Wang Theater in Boston – April 19 and 20. What’s not to like? Neil’s shows are always a piece of art – he’s always doing something different, and no matter what it is, it’s always got his enthusiasm. And it’s infectious.
But first – Bert Jansch. A case of better late than never for me. All I can say is what a delight; what an honor, really, to listen to him play guitar for 45 minutes. A master craftsman – technically superb, with the ability to play two guitar parts simultaneously, picking out bass and rhythm or rhythm and lead like people do this all the time; stylistically reminiscent of Doc Watson; and artistically, he puts the notes together in a continuum of beauty. I felt humbled. A Scottish treasure.
Neil’s show was a treasure too. The whole package, from the stage setup to the lighting to the song choices and their order, it was another brilliantly executed piece of Neil art. The stage was glorious – an upright piano stage right, a baby grand on the left, and back center, up a few steps, a pipe organ. The two pianos were lit by hanging Tiffany lamps and the organ by a spotlight, islands of light lending a softness to the dark. It was somber, but it was gentle, home-like. Kudos to the person doing the lights. The back wall had four vertical panels that would adjust for color and texture for each song, very evocative.
And there comes Neil walking out on stage, with his harmonica apparatus strapped on, white jacket that gets progressively more crinkled as the night goes on, his somewhat disheveled hair under a white fedora, and he wanders over near the Indian, straps on his acoustic, takes a seat, dips his harmonica in the cup of water, and we’re off into “My, My, Hey, Hey” followed by “Tell Me Why” and “Helpless.” Simple little “Tell Me Why” from After The Goldrush – taking me back 40 years to high school days. And “Helpless,” gently taking me back to Canada more than any song can.
He moved it up a level for the next three songs, playing a black acoustic with a pickup. The first of them was new, “You Never Call,” with its in-and-out burgers, and the other two giving us our first taste of Le Noise distorted live. As the set unfolded, it was the songs from Le Noise that so captured my attention. Probably the newness factor has a lot to do with it – it’s always fun to see what Neil is up to next. In Le Noise, it’s the same Neil, singing the same songs about life and love, the human condition, reflections from the road of life. All of them are told through what is virtually one long guitar solo after another – he had three electric guitars and he used all three for the Le Noise songs – two songs on the black acoustic with pickup, two on Old Black, and two on the Gretsch white falcon. While Neil was working distortion tricks on the guitar at hand, he was also distorting his voice in echo. It wasn’t all about distortion, but that was the telltale mark. Sometimes making it sound like a cry in the dark in “Love and War,” sometimes just pounding noise in “Rumblin,” and sometimes a soaring anthem, like in the closer for the night, the seriously good “Walk With Me” – think Jimi Hendrix at Monterey.
Throw in “Down By The River,” “Ohio,” “After The Goldrush,” “I Believe In You,””Cortez The Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl,” and once again, it’s Neil at his ever-loving best.