Dancing Across the Water: Neil Young at the Fox Theater in Detroit

Neil Young at the Fox Theater MarqueeFox Theater, Detroit, MI, May 4, 2011

What a night. Neil Young was onstage at the Fox Theater in Detroit with his favorite toys – Old Black, his white Gretsch, a few acoustic guitars, a pump organ, and two different pianos. And he rocked the place, all on his own. He grabbed the attention of the entire audience – all 5,000 of us – the instant he walked out on stage. And kept us when he started playing.

Me and my buddy had seats up in the second balcony. At least, that’s what I think it was called. It was pretty high up, but we still had some pretty stellar sight lines from our seats. We had to take an elevator, and it was one of the creepiest elevators I’ve ever been in. Old school with the metal gate, and these horrid red leather covered walls. A poor interior design decision. I felt like I was on the set of a horror movie.

The theater itself was a whole other story. Ornately decorated, with a detail you would never see in a newly designed theater today. Really striking. Neil said it was the most beautiful theater in the country, and he credited a friend of his (whose name escapes me) who restored it.

And that was just one of the nice things Neil had to say about being back in Detroit, a city which he clearly has a soft spot for. It’s not like the crowd wasn’t already into the show, but that just fired us up more.

Coming into the show, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I only knew that one of the tour t-shirts said solo… it didnt said acoustic. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I was hoping that meant we would see some electric guitar work. And, of course, we did. Cortez The Killer, Down By The River, Ohio, and a few others.

Cortez The Killer was the highlight of the show. Cortez has always been one of my favorite Neil tunes, but I had never heard him play it like this before. Big, loud Neil chords, playing Old Black. Distorting, bending, extending, it was awesome. I mean that in a “it generated awe” kind of way. Check out this video of it:

See what I mean? There’s a moment in the song (about 4:20 in) where he’s strumming the chords by banging the palm of his hand against the strings as he’s singing “they carried them to the flatlands, and they died along the way…” It’s epic. Like the rest of the song, it’s sonically huge. But the way he’s strumming makes the chords reverberate with a punk intensity. And this guy is 65! He’s still giving more to his audience than most artists half his age. Not just great playing and songs you want to hear, but he’s subtly recharging some of these songs that he’s been playing close to 30 years and keeping you interested. Cortez and Down by the River are good examples of what I’m talking about.

There were a number of other songs from the back catalog – Hey Hey My My, Helpless, After the Goldrush – with a generous sprinkling of stuff from Le Noise. He played six of the eight tracks from that record. I have to say that Neil’s performances of the songs encouraged me to go back and give the record another listen. I’m enjoying the record a lot more now. There’s some fantastic writing on Le Noise that I didn’t hear the first time around. So let me leave you with this: Love and War, one of the standouts on Le Noise, from Wednesday night at the Fox: