Neil Young’s concerts at Carnegie Hall were, simply, sublime. I can’t think of a better way to describe them. Now. I am one of Neil Young’s biggest fans, so you have to understand that I am not entirely objective. Full disclosure: the Carnegie Hall shows which I attended were my 88th, 89th, and 90th Neil Young shows, so you see what I mean. Still. My feelings are real. We are only what we feel.
I am the kind of fan whose heart jumps into her throat when the lights go down and Neil Young makes his way to center stage. In the case of Carnegie Hall, he made his way into what I like to call The Sacred Circle, a circle of guitars with a chair in the center. Gulp. I had to remind myself to breathe. A beautiful scene. And it is a scene. And a performance. But —
Neil Young has a way of making you think he just wandered into Carnegie Hall (or wherever) from his old car with his guitar on his back. He still has that “aw shucks” quality about him, after all these years (and all this fame.) On the other hand, there is, well, a majesty about him. It’s a mystery how he manages to possess both.
Of course he is, after all, Neil Young. A veteran. A legend. Someone to be revered. But he’s also just Neil. “We love you Neil!” was heard over and over again at the Carnegie Hall shows, and always. He inspires both familiarity and awe. Which probably explains why so many of us, eager to shake his hand over the years, find ourselves tongue-tied when we do. Neil! Neil! Neil! – here he is! – Uh ….
When Neil wasn’t in The Sacred Circle, he wandered around between two pianos and an organ, under the watchful eye of his old friend Woody (a wooden Indian that is always on stage with him). The wandering, and his thoughtful demeanor, give the lovely impression that you are, for a couple of hours, invited into Neil’s living room, a fly on the wall while he wanders around thinking about and playing some of his old songs on a rainy afternoon.
When Neil played “Birds,” I was in the balcony, my back against the wall, the farthest seat in the room. The woman next to me burst into tears about half way through the song. I looked at her. “It’s … It’s … so beautiful,” she sniffed. I nodded my head. “Yes, yes. It is. I know.” I nodded. I understood.
There were other, less moving moments, that night in the balcony, like the fact that the only drunken woo-hoo-er in the audience was seated directly in front of me. I was tempted to push him over the rail, but I didn’t. Mellow My Mind came up, and it did just that.
You know, I had better seats during my three night run at Carnegie Hall (and no, I wasn’t at the now ridiculously famous first show where Neil asked the audience to stop clapping while he was trying to play. I side with Neil on this one – shocker, I know – but I mean really. This is a performance. Not a sing-along. Would you clap at the symphony?). Anyway. I had better seats during my three night run at Carnegie Hall, but there was something about that balcony seat. The sound was fantastic, it is Carnegie Hall after all, but there was something else. From that angle, I could see the two spotlights shining on Neil and they formed, in their elongated shape, a perfect heart, Neil’s feet placed firmly in its center. You know, I felt like it was my own.
Edna St. Vincent Millay