Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold"

Walking in to an empty theater for the late showing of the new Jonathan Demme concert documentary "Heart Of Gold", I was once again reminded that my finger is nowhere near the pulse of America. I was eventually joined by two other moviegoers, though.
Let me state, first of all, that this movie is brilliant. It captures all the nuance and soul that a Neil Young concert has to offer. And let me tell you, there are mountains of soul presented here. I was quite literally blown away. I went in with high expectations, but after just a few moments I was reduced to tears of both sorrow and joy. It was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least.
The opening image of the concert is of the beautiful golden curtains of the Ryman Auditorium, lit only by its famous foot lights, as they part to reveal Neil and band. For a moment you actually believe the tall, lanky figure center stage is the ghostly image of Hank Williams Sr. making his triumphant return to the stage, where he was fired from the Grand Ole Opry, after more than five decades. It's a truly breathtaking moment.
Neil then leads his band through the entirety of his most recent release, Prairie Wind. This is no frills rock 'n roll at its finest. Except for the band and two backdrops that alternate, the gigantic stage is empty. Proving that the grand spectacles that are passed off as rock shows these days are really just meant as a distraction from sub-par bands with even more sub-par music. He's joined by a whole cast of fantastic musical talent including, Emmylou Harris, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, The Nashville String Machine, and the Memphis Horns. His old bandmates Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, and wife Pegi are also along for the ride.
At the completion of Prairie Wind, Neil then graciously presents the audience with a staggering set of classic songs from his vast catalog. And this is not your run of the mill "greatest shits" set. He digs deep in to his repertoire with songs like, "Old King", the Ian & Silvia classic "Four Strong Winds", and one of my all time favorites "One Of These Days" to close out the show.
In one of the more emotionally charged moments of the film, Neil speaks candidly about his father's dementia and eventual passing earlier that year. It's tremendously moving to see the normally stone-faced Young swell up with emotion before playing the albums title track "Prairie Wind" which begins with the line, Trying to remember what my daddy said/Before too much time took away his head. In-tense!
There's also a lovely moment during "Harvest Moon" where Neil glances back and grins at Pegi, his wife of over twenty years, during the lyrics, I'm still in love with you/I wanna see you dance again/'Cause I'm still in love with you. Very subtle and genuinely moving.
It's easy to see that Neil is quite overwhelmed by being on the historic stage of the Ryman. He graciously soaks up every bit of joy and love it has to offer only to project it back, through his performance, to the enthusiastic crowd that has gathered to witness the world premier of his new musical project. The audience is attentive and very well behaved with nary a hoot or holler during the proceedings except between songs. Neil's fans(or Rusties) are infamous for the way they've welcomed each and every new project he's presented to them with loving open arms. And here, they are well rewarded with a tidal wave of soul and a heart of gold as big as Nashville itself.
As the movies credits roll, we witness Neil alone on stage performing an acoustic version of his classic "The Old Laughing Lady" with only a guitar case and old weathered traveling bag as his companions. And as the credits finish we see his dedication and final proclamation of love for the evening. It simply reads, "for daddy".
As I walked out of the theater, I passed up my car and soon found myself several blocks away looking in the window of a local nick-nack shop. I quickly got lost in the brilliantly back lit, hand blown glass figurines as some lovely violin music floated above the parking lot. I realized that I had had such a wonderful experience that I didn't want the night to end. It was all like some beautiful gold tinted dream that had renewed my love of music all over again.

But it got cold, so I went home.

iPod Song of the Day: "Funny Little Frog" from Belle & Sebastian's new release The Life Pursuit
This is a great new pop album with a ton of great songs. I also saw them perform it live on Conan O'Brien tonight and it was killer!


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