Monday 16 September 2019

Bob and Neil together: a musical overload

Ahead of his summer show in Kilkenny with Bob Dylan, Neil Young is still rockin' in the free world

Young with one of his well-worn guitars. When he plays electric, it's usually a Gretsch. He uses Martin acoustics
Young with one of his well-worn guitars. When he plays electric, it's usually a Gretsch. He uses Martin acoustics
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

It probably wasn't the best Christmas present he ever got. But Neil Young probably laughed up his flannel shirtsleeve when he received it.

On December 1, 1983, the Canadian songsmith's early Christmas pressie came served with papers from his then label, Geffen Records - complaining that he had been recording "unrepresentative" and "uncharacteristic" recordings, possibly referring to the electronic album Trans, or the rockabilly album Everybody's Rockin'.

And everybody was rockin', except for Geffen, who put forth the argument that Neil Young essentially no longer sounded like... well, Neil Young. The latter counter-sued, claiming complete artistic freedom. Geffen settled and said sorry.

The abrasively uncompromising Neil Young has rarely sounded like Neil Young as his styles have gone from psychedelia, to homespun Americana, to fractious grunge and alt-country, and beguiling middle-of-the-ground and back again.

Playing Nowlan Park in Kilkenny in July with Bob Dylan - their first Irish show together - there is no one quite like the cantankerous Canadian croak king that is Neil Young. He killed hippie. He invented grunge. But I wouldn't tell him that to his face.

Although his 1995 album Mirror Ball with Pearl Jam probably set the bar. As The New York Times wrote in its review of Young's 500-page tome Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream in 2012: "One minute Young's the unsurpassed master of guitar feedback, the next he's cooing sappy ditties under bucolic studio moonlight.

"Restless and over-productive, he has vaults full of unreleased music; he's toured widely and often (the now-­defunct custom bus he called Pocahontas was straight out of Sullivan's Travels), briefly passing through greener commercial pastures on his way to the deepest ditch or most imposing cliff he can find (goodbye Harvest and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, hello Tonight's the Night and Ragged Glory)."

Anyone buying said memoir expecting celebrity goss got their comeuppance when Neil wrote about his broken toe and hiking: "I have a special pair of sandals that Dr Rock sent me with a wrap to put on my toe to hold it in place. I haven't used the wrap yet, but the sandals are quite stylish so I wear them… Now when I walk around every step is a loud clop. It is not a stealth thing. I am debating whether to wear them tonight to dinner next door at Greg and Vicki's. We will be having grass-fed beef.'

Born on November 12, 1945, Neil Young is one of the most consistently authentic, unpredictable and true singer-songwriters to come out of North America - or anywhere - of his generation.

Putting on one of his records you are never quite sure what you are going to get, other than it might shock you as well as entrance you with whatever Neil is up to at that precise moment (the next moment he will have moved on to the next sound raging heavy peace inside his head.)

There is always some sort of weird excitement about his releases, and even his reissues - take his and Crazy Horse's 1990 classic Ragged Glory with an extra album's worth of "undiscovered and unheard" tracks from the Ragged Glory's original sessions.

"Listening to these tracks is a real head scratcher," Neil Young Archives wrote. "They are equal to anything on the existing record, maybe better. Possibly, the thought at the time was to have a single album and not include the songs from the last half of the unique 'set oriented' recording sessions."

I am not sure what kind of set Neil Young will play in Kilkenny - but then I imagine nor does Neil Young.

But maybe he might play Harvest Moon, Cinnamon Girl, Helpless, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Old Man and Heart Of Gold for his wife Daryl Hannah. And us.

Neil Young and Bob Dylan play Nowlan Park in Kilkenny on July 14

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