Real time impressions of the 1979 Neil Young concert film Rust Never Sleeps, which I have never before seen.
*Though I generally just use ” ” around song titles, I use a bunch of quotation marks in other ways so I italicized titles within quotes for clearer reading.*
Hendrix’ “Star Spangled Banner” plays while roadies dressed as Jawas wrangle with an over-sized mic, tipping it to and fro like James Brown. The set, a series of over-sized equipment crates, looms large. The Jawas are joined by mini-Jawas (I’m guessing Neil’s kids) as actual equipment crates are wheeled in, pianos, drums and the like unpacked, mic’d, and set in place. “A Day In The Life” plays in the background. The crowd strangely cheers each time another set of Jawas brings out more crap. With the end of the Beatles comes Neil, sporting his regular boys haircut (same as Iggy and Keith Richards back then; gotta be the drugs).
“Sugar Mountain“, solo, acoustic. Neil kneels on a giant fake amp. He’s singing into the mics on his harmonica holder, but he sounds pretty frickin great. He’s in good voice, confident in tone, still able to hit the notes. Crowd cheers when he blows his harmonica. WOoo! Harmonica motherfucker! WooOO! This era of Neil reminds me how much Axl Rose looked like him before he turned into a steroidal Danny Bonaduce. The hollow cokehead eyes sure add to that impression. I hate when people clap to a tune without a beat.
Another solo number, though he’s moved off the faux amp, down the stairs onto the stage. “I Am A Child” I’m not a fan of either of these tracks, but I can’t fault the performance. Just not anything to get me going. Crowd seems happy though. I am a big fan of artists known for solo acoustic stuff to open with it as opposed to the mid-show breakdown. Someone threw Neil a bouquet. Looks like a head of cauliflower in the light.
“Comes A Time“, more Neil, earnest busker, roaming slowly stage right. He’s moved into the shadow of the giant Jawa mic. I have no idea conceptually what Neil was aiming for with this production. Neil as a toy; a small cog in the industrialized world the Jawas represent; just dwarfed by what touring means now; the product vs the artist? No idea.
Neil found a piano and busts out “After The Goldrush“. The crowd gets to see the back of his dirty white tee shirt. Crowd cheers “I felt like getting high” like the stoners they are. Neil’s voice isn’t up for this; he’s cracking and straining. I like his old school Adidas. Probably weren’t old school then, come to think of it. I’ve always thought that song never quite goes anywhere; it sounds like a great opening to something more.
“When I get big I’m gonna get an electric guitar,” Neil quips. Back to the old acoustic. “Thrasher“. Lower key, Neil sounds much better. He pronounces “shone” as “shawn”, though it isn’t needed for the rhyme. Hmm. Dirty hippie fans cheer “Burned my credit card for fuel.” I don’t know what is going on with this crowd. Reminds me why I hate big shows these days. Glad he left the “rock formations” fuckup in. Just smiled and got the line right. I’m getting impatient for some Crazy Horse madness.
“My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” we’re getting somewhere now. Even acoustic, the guitar line is great. Really a teaser for the electric version, but lets you see the bones are great, something that is sometimes hard to see because of the size of the swinging balls the electric version smacks in your face.
The break as they finish setting up for Crazy Horse is interminable. Bunch of Woodstock refs – Brown Acid, burned down hot dog stand etc – which are really, really lame. Someone just walked by dressed as a Pope or Bishop or other tall-hatted religious goombah. Still got Jawas, or “roadeyes” as Young called them. Crates beget massive Fender amps; he dug ’em back out a dozen years later.
Let’s get some rocking going. “When You Dance” is not really the barn-burner one might expect, but this groover lets the band get their feet under them. Crazy Horse swings way more than I remember in my mind. Never as sloppy as I think either. They’re fluid with both beat and tempo, but not off-step. That to me is swing versus sloppy. When I saw Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, they were sloppy. This is not.
“The Loner” lets the band tear into a bit more, but not really burn. Another strong showing from the rhythm section, and Neil revs up for some patented fuzz. Another one of those songs I’m pretty “eh” on, but a longtime favorite of artist and (most) fans alike.
Again, Ralph Molina on drums and Billy Talbot on bass, shuffling along under Neil’s “Welfare Mothers“. What a strange song: “Welfare mothers make better lovers. Divorcee!” I’ll chalk this one up to more coke.
More Woodstock bullshit, with storm sounds and “move away from the towers”. “No rain! no rain!” No shit, your indoors.
“The Needle and the Damage Done” performed solo acoustic, written about Danny Whitten (original Crazy Horse guitarist) before he died from an OD (see Tonight’s The Night for more).
Band joins Neil in his Eagles-esque “Lotta Love“. That this isn’t a James Taylor song blows my mind. Of course, even he might be ashamed to sing “lotta love, lotta love, la la la loo”. This is a strange concert. The set and staging, with the “roadeyes” and Woodstock announcements, has totally disconnected with the crowd. Now we get “Rust-O-Vision”. Total fuckery.
And then the band launches into “Sedan Delivery” with its fifties rock/punk verse structure, and slow, wanky choral bit. Even Zappa finds this shit conceptually undercooked. Neil’s rock star posturing as he walks to the edge of the stage and tries to “connect” with the audience is really pathetic. Even Pancho is finding this pretty lame, as he barely bobs up and down while he plays guitar. Nice drums in lights over the stage.
Now were talking: “Powderfinger“, in all its fuzzed-out glory. Studio versions (like on the unreleased Chrome Dreams) really miss this haze; clarity is not the friend of guitar licks like this. This song helped invent the Drive By Truckers, which may be good or bad depending on how you view it. Subject matter, underlying swing, background vocal, guitar tone; it’s all there.
Guitar distortion causing cymbals to rattle; must be “Cortez the Killer“. Maybe my favorite Neil song. I used this to teach my wife that guitar solos can be lyrical and illustrative of the song as opposed to sheer Eddie Van Halen hammer-on masturbation. Great to see the camera from behind the drummer, as it shows how much Molina and Talbot love playing this song; Talbot in particular is just inhabiting the bass line. Even Pancho is rocking on the balls of his feet, coaxing the notes and rocking out as much as he has all show. He’s wearing a Larry Robinson Habs jersey. Is he Canadian like Neil or just a bandwagoner (Montreal, and Robinson in particular, were tearing it up in the 70s)? OH FUCK!! Neil just got Caribbean on our ass! “Dancing across the water, man” Three fucking times he gets all 7-Up on that line. What a douche! He’s trying to get the crowd to sing his damn lilting Irie crap; they’re all jaws agape and not singing. Way to be a douche, Neil. Well done.
Peals of feedback. Oh shit – here’s my true favorite song, “Cinnamon Girl“. Jawas rocking backstage, band tight as tight can be. They must have played this a thousand times by now. A little faster than on record, less swing. I married my Cinnamon Girl so I’m one up on Neil. Jawas still grooving all to shit, air guitars and head-banging. A couple of ’em are onstage doing a hoe-down square dance “swing your partners” thing. He missed the tentative little, “woo” after the verses that I just love. Seals the song like a kiss.
Roadeyes are repelling out of the ceiling – wait, it is one of the Devo guys in his Devo suit! (Actually, I think it is a pro with a plastic mask and Devo uniform) I know they were the opener on this tour, but whatever. Pancho is now playing a synth, suspended on wires and edged with a bird cutout (complete with wings), to accompany “Like A Hurricane“. Pretty straight and mid-tempo here; not the slow, cavernous dirge he sometimes makes it, nor the post-apocalyptic guitar workout he sometimes plays. The tinkly synth is not a bonus. I love watching a Neil solo; I have no idea what the weird back-and-forth rocking and wrestling-a-mongoose motions mean, or if they help, but they do entertain. I think the rhythm section is playing a variation on “My Girl”. Everyone wants to be James Jamerson, including Billy Talbot.
All the roadeyes are on stage, Neil’s making his thanks to them, his staff and the audience. The chord that ends “A Day In The Life” sounds, and exit stage right. One lone jawa is trying to drag the giant mic offstage. Another is pulling down the curtain. Neil has a live mic backstage and is saying, “I think we should go out there.” and the crowd is cheering. The jawas bring back the mic, Neil is prattling on, crowd cheering, blah, blah, blah. Just noticed Billy Talbot is wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt that looks like a Jack Daniel’s label.
“Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)”
You want more than that? It sounds like it should, balls swinging (as previously noted), slap-your-mama, unadulterated badass. The bottom end is tearing holes in the pavement, Neil squealing, his guitar squealing with him. Showing the punks love while giving them notice.
Roll credits, cue Chuck Berry’s “School Days“.
More “Rust-O-Vision”. Roadeyes return with the giant mic. Neil and Crazy Horse emerge, more Jamerson walking bass for “Tonight’s The Night“. This isn’t harrowing, like the familiar studio cut; they’re funking it up, little breakdown section. Oddly celebratory, but probably the nerves aren’t as raw six years (and many performances) on. This arrangement reminds me of my more smarmy self, back in the college days. I said that if the Stax house band was the MGs, Crazy Horse was the GMs; sturdy, American made rock with little flair but dependable when you just wanna haul some shit. They’re just hauling shit here, playing a cruddy variant of “Walking The Dog” for Neil to stomp over.
And its over.