Archive for the ‘Jeff Beck’ Category

Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Jeff Beck: one week in Australia

February 5, 2009
Thanks to Andrew Robertson in Adelaide:

I have just enjoyed the most incredible week of music so I’ll see if I can manage to share it with you…

Last weekend was the Australia Day long weekend and on Saturday night we saw Neil Young at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Ordinarily we would have stayed the whole long weekend in Sydney, as it is such a great city, but before I had booked flights and accommodation, it was announced that Leonard Cohen would be playing in Adelaide on the holiday Monday – so naturally I booked that. That meant coming home from Sydney on the Sunday, which turned out to be fortuitous because it was then announced that Jeff Beck would be playing in Adelaide on the Sunday night. Don’t things have a way of working out in the end?

And then it was announced that Neil Young would be playing the Big Day Out circuit, including Adelaide, so I saw him again on Friday night – so that was 4 amazing concerts in one amazing week. Probably only surpassed by Van Morrison’s Astral Weekend at Hollywood Bowl. Although the week I saw Dylan in Adelaide then Van twice in 2 nights in England, all in the same week back in 2007, was pretty good too!

So let’s begin with Neil Young in Sydney. He was supported by My Morning Jacket who I thought were great. I don’t know much about them, but understand they play a variety of styles – that night they played mostly softer, more acoustic, country influenced music. If anyone can recommend which of their albums I should start with, I’d be interested to hear.

Shakey played a really great concert, with a set list that was about as good as you could hope for. Of course, it would be easy to come up with another whole set list of favourites he didn’t play, but when you walk out happy with everything he did play, it’s a good concert.

It was mostly electric, a short acoustic set in the middle, but mostly electric. However, without Crazy Horse he didn’t really extend out the songs with long, loud, grungy solos. I wondered if that was just Neil, like where he’s at right now, or whether it was a conscious decision to try to balance the “two Neils” for a mixed audience. For the grunge lovers, it was certainly loud and guitary enough. But for the folkies it wasn’t too grungy. I’m happy with both Neils, and was very happy with the way he played it on the night. A case in point was Cinnamon Girl, which probably only went for 3-4 minutes, like a single rather than an album track or an extended live version.

The only other time I’ve seen Neil Young was the Greendale tour with Crazy Horse, and their second set – after Greendale – went for 90 minutes with just 6 songs. A real blast. Raw power. Great songs.

Anyway, back to Sydney where he started with Love And Only Love, so it was a powerhouse opening. A real highlight was Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, which came very early in the concert and it was obvious he was on top of his game. He looked great, no sign of any health issues. And in great voice – his voice doesn’t seem to have changed over the years, unlike others (most notably Dylan).

No doubt in my mind that the highlight of the night was Cortez the Killer. Slow, powerful and menacing, the song just took hold of you – and took hold of him, as he doubled up to rip those notes out of his guitar. Doesn’t he have a great guitar style that is quite unique to him, and it’s songs like Cortez that really showcase that (Powderfinger too, but unfortunately we didn’t get that). Spirit Road was a very spirited performance, and reminded me how much I liked Chrome Dreams II (Ordinary People would be great live wouldn’t it?).

He then went to the organ (a proper one with pipes) and did a heartfelt solo version of Mother Earth, which led into the acoustic set. Highlighted by The Needle and The Damage Done, which still resonates today and which he still seems to feel deeply, but then there were some unexpected songs – Unknown Legend and One of These Days, both songs I really like from Harvest Moon, but not songs I was expecting. Similarly Words, from Harvest, which was great and led back into the electric finale.

I know I’ve forgotten a few, but he closed with Rocking in the Free World then came back to encore with The Beatles’ A Day in the Life which if you didn’t know otherwise you would have thought was his song. I’m sure Lennon would have approved. For a bit of theatre at the end he destroyed every string on his guitar in that cacophonous crescendo, before hitting two notes on a xylophone (or something like a xylophone). A nice ironic touch.

Jumping forward to Friday night, Neil played the Big Day Out in Adelaide. These are outdoor, all-day concerts for kids, with mosh pits, crowd surfing and the like. And bands I’ve never heard of and music that doesn’t really reach me (with exceptions, obviously – except that I don’t know what they are). I should stress, that’s my opinion only – but most new young music I hear doesn’t attract me to find out or listen more. Anyway, for the Big Day Out I was intending to go and listen and see if I could find some other music I liked. But then this monstrous heatwave descended on Adelaide so I decided not to – it was over 40C (that’s well over 100F). I skipped the whole day and arrived a bit after 8pm for Shakey’s set at 8.30 by which time the sun had gone down and a bit of a breeze was blowing. I got a great spot, a bit side on to be out of the mass of people, but still close to the stage.

Neil came on wearing a loose shirt and cargo shorts (!), no jacket, no hat. Again he looked great and I think they must have had enough cooling on the stage because he didn’t seem at all bothered by the heat. If anything, on the night he seemed more relaxed and into to it than Sydney (not that there was anything wrong with Sydney!). He started with Love and Only Love again, then ripped into Hey Hey My My. I wondered if the younger audience knew the significance of the song, in respect to Kurt Cobain’s suicide note – but judging from the incredible response to the whole set, I decided they all knew Neil’s work pretty well. The audience was still predominantly young, although quite a number of other “old farts” like me had turned up (probably mostly only for Neil too).

I half expected him to delete the acoustic set in this concert, thinking that “grungy Neil” might have been more appropriate for the audience, but I was wrong. And the acoustic set got huge audience response, especially Heart of Gold. As well as HoG, he also did Old Man, so that was two new acoustic songs we hadn’t heard in Sydney.

Another killer Cortez, but this night a new highlight would emerge: Like A Hurricane. Most of my friends think I’m crazy, but it is definitely worth going to more than one concert in the same tour (as everyone on these lists knows)! He unleashed his full throttle on Like A Hurricane, long, loud, spectacular.

And what an ending, reaching a massive guitar driven and drum crashing crescendo while Neil somehow wailed the chorus line above it all. A moment to remember! So with Hurricane and Hey Hey My My, there were two different electric songs to Sydney, as well as the two different acoustic ones. Another great Day In the Life to close, another 6 guitar strings destroyed.

Then Jeff Beck on Sunday night was a revelation. The reviewer in our local paper described it as guitar poetry or guitar sculpture, not mere guitar playing. And that wasn’t a bad description. I always liked Rolling Stone’s description of Clapton’s and Duane Allman’s playing on the Layla album: never have guitar heroics sounded so sweet. And Jeff Beck’s concert was in that category. Especially if you add “subtle” to “sweet”.

One thing that struck me. He used the same guitar, unchanged, all night – what’s with these other guys who change guitars after every song (is it just to keep the roadies busy?).

As probably everyone knows, the other interesting thing about him is the way he uses his fingers rather than a plectrum. And on one song he used the slide thingy on his “picking” hand rather than up the fretboard. Apologies if I’ve got the technical terminology wrong! Anyway, it sounded great – but more importantly, it sounded like music, it was right for the song, not a gimmick.

I’m not familiar enough with his body of work to list the songs – the only album I have of his is Blow by Blow, although I might now go and get some more. I was told that the set list was similar to the Ronnie Scott’s CD/DVD that has just been released which I will definitely be getting.

But one song I did recognize was The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, which I just couldn’t believe I was hearing – the very next night after Neil Young had encored with it. In Jeff Beck’s case, he closed his set with it before coming back for two encores.

This was a seriously great concert, one I was so pleased I didn’t miss. And for us Aussies it was great to see Tal Wilkenfeld, the young (22yo) female Aussie bass player, who was outstanding. Jeff Beck was quoted as saying she’s like Jaco Pastorius in Kylie Minogue’s body – great quote!

The best concert of the week, though, was Leonard Cohen. As every review I’ve read has said about this tour, from all over the world (including on MFGU) this was a privilege not a concert.

It was another weather-affected day in Adelaide, the concert being an outdoor affair, A Day on the Green at a Southern Vales winery, an hour south of Adelaide. Incidentally the promoters of A Day on the Green describe them as a Big Day Out for Grown-ups!

The first act, Augie March, started around 5pm in the real heat of the day. We just couldn’t sit out there, so had to just listen to them in the background from the shade of the cellar door. We did go out for Paul Kelly – he is unmissable – and he did a great set even though it must have been most uncomfortable. He just had Dan Kelly supporting him on lead guitar and backing vocals, no other support but it worked really well. I think Dan is his nephew.

Leonard Cohen’s first set started around 7.20 still in full sun and let me tell you, it was blazing. The sun was just going down an hour later as the first set finished, so after a short break it was quite pleasant for the second set. I wondered why they didn’t just push the whole thing back, but anyway it didn’t affect the quality of the music.

How to describe Leonard Cohen? I am not sure I have ever seen a performer so happy to be there, so impishly playful yet so masterfully intelligent, so humble yet so self confident, so respectful of his musicians yet so revered by them, and so equally respectful of his audience while having us eat out of his hands, in awe.

Excellent band – drums and bass, electric guitar, acoustic 12 string and mandolin, keyboards, sax and other “blowing” instruments, three wonderful backing singers and Leonard (who occasionally strummed a guitar or tinkled a keyboard, although seemingly unnecessarily).

This was poetry set to music, as everyone who appreciates Leonard Cohen knows. But I think compared to earlier Leonard Cohen, the music has become more integral to the songs rather than just the accompaniment to the words. A very complete and uplifting experience.

The highlights were many. In fact every song was a highlight – and there were many of them because I think he must have played for almost 3 hours.

Without trying to put them in any order, we were graced with: Suzanne, So Long Marianne, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Tower of Song, Hallelujah, Bird on a Wire, I’m Your Man, Dance Me to the End of Love, and some of the more recent ones like Boogie Street, In My Secret Life and A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Having seen Van the Man doing Astral Weeks live at the Hollywood Bowl in November, and that being my all-time concert high watermark, this one came close – that’s how good Leonard Cohen was. Perhaps equal to Springsteen’s The Rising tour, which was my previous high watermark (at least I think it was – so easy to change your mind about these things!).

So that’s been my week – how about yours?

Andrew in Adelaide