GM Place - Oct 1, 2000

copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 70 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Dec, 2000


Sometimes things happen in your life that seem to be directed by a Higher power, or come about by what seems to be serendipitous good fortune. Here is a recent example from my own experience.

One cool September evening, my wife, MaryAnn & I were heading into Chemainus to have supper at a restaurant when our car broke down en route. The water pump had blown out & all the coolant was gone. Bummer...

We walked down the railroad tracks to the Horseshoe Bay Inn, trying to keep our spirits up. On our way there we tried to figure out what to do. We decided that after our meal we would call our auto service to get our car towed home & we'd catch a ride with the driver. It seemed like a good idea. We were starving when we got to the Inn & ordered a meal with refreshments. Lots of them. Played some Keno too.

Eventually we were picked up & taken to our vehicle. The driver was a little behind schedule since he had just started his own dinner when he got the call from dispatch. I guess he figured we'd be safe waiting where we were. On the way back home with our car on the hook he told us about a concert he was going to attend.

We asked him who he was going to see & when he told us that he had comp tickets to Neil Young we were very excited for him & told him how much we liked Neil's music. I decided to be brash & said "If you have any spare comp tickets we'd love to go too". He said he'd get back to us on that & dropped us off with our car back home at square one.

We were happy to be home with our broken car & celebrated by playing a couple of our favorite NY albums (18 titles at that time. 21+ now). We thought about how great it would be to see Neil perform but it seemed to be too farfetched that we'd get tickets from a virtual stranger. Imagine how excited we became when we got a phone call a week later telling us that a pair of tickets would be waiting for us at the venue on the day of the show!

The next day I booked a budget hotel room & figured out the ferry logistics for our trip. I looked at my calendar & realized that I'd be starting out from Port Hardy on the day of the concert. That made things a lot more challenging. Oh well. It was still do-able. I'd just have to get started on October 1st at 7:AM after a late performance & equipment tear-down.

I also had to get my car fixed for the 12-hour round trip, up & down the Island. I called a mechanic recommended to me by my cousin & got a new water pump installed. The day after I had that work done I had to replace the starter as well. Again... Cars.

The day before I was to leave for my two night bar gig in Port Hardy a fellow dropped by to look at the derelict car that had occupied my boulevard for 2 years or more. He gave me $180 for the beast & drove it away. I was amazed. I decided to celebrate by upgrading our room reservation in Vancouver. I called the Century Plaza & booked a studio suite.

The morning of the concert I loaded up my gear & got on the highway. It was a brilliant autumn morning & the trip was so inspiring that I wrote a song during my venture south. I call it "Going to a Neil Young Show". It was conceived in the moment, y'know. About 6 hours later I arrived home & unloaded my gear, humming my new song.

MaryAnn & I loaded up our bags & I drove back north to Departure Bay. We parked the car, walked aboard the Fast Cat & purchased 2 bus tickets to downtown.

When we arrived at our hotel, our room reservation was mysteriously upgraded by the deskman to the penthouse suite. Sweet! It was a splendid panoramic view from the North shore to the South side. Awesome digs. We cracked a bottle of vino & got ready for the show! Taxi!!

THE CONCERT: "Music in Head" Tour - Last Show - Vancouver

We arrived in time to see the second half of Beck's acoustic show. The partisan audience at General Motors Place was obviously there to see Neil, but Beck provided a great selection of material that eventually won over the "Rusties" despite a bass-heavy mix. The last couple of numbers were particularly cool, especially with the inclusion of a Coral Electric Sitar. Hopefully Beck releases more of this kind of material in the near future.

After a fairly lengthy break between acts, the lights went down & the "Garage" vibrated with anticipation of the impending Neil-ness. A stunning cloud of cannabis smoke rolled through the venue (not the last) as the band took the stage & the preliminary chords of "Motorcycle Mama" reverberated across a deliriously ecstatic auditorium.

Neil's band for this tour consisted of some of the top session players of the past 35 years. Imagine having a line-up with Duck Dunn on Bass (From Booker T. & the M.G.s); session giant, Jim Keltner on Drums; Muscle Shoals stalwart, Spooner Oldham on Keyboards; & long-time Neil Young multi-instrumentalist Ben Keith on lap-steel, Telecaster & pedal-steel guitars. Stellar to be sure & what chops!

The back-up singers were Neil's wife Pegi & sister Astrid. This was a truly amazing touch. There's something extra special about hearing harmonies done by siblings & obviously Pegi has no trouble relating to the nuances of Neil's material, having figured directly as the inspiration of many of the songs!

On many of Neil's earlier songs, the harmonies were double-tracked by Neil & later material often featured Linda Ronstadt & Emmy Lou Harris. In my opinion Astrid & Pegi were more personal & effective throughout the show as they provided sweet harmony & danced to the solid beat provided by Keltner & Dunn's rhythym section genius.

Right off the top I noticed how strong Neil's often fragile vocals sounded. There was no hesitation or wavering. He wore a T-shirt & tweedy jacket with torn jeans. Bobbing his head as he dug into his muse he resembled a manic long-haired English prof... more than the rock icon he is.

The polished ensemble was on the last night of their North American tour & they were obviously relishing their enthusiastic Canadian audience. Neil got a huge cheer for toasting Canada with a sip of his beer. Hell, at one point he got a cheer for just having a sip of his beer. I AM CANADIAN.

This brings me to another point. In my opinion there are but a handful of megastars on the singer/songwriter scene from this country. I mean international artists who have added their songs to the fabric of the collective consciousness of the world, transcending borders, generations & genres. Some of them end up living in the USA because their stature is on the world stage & the music biz south of the border is where their game is played. Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, kd lang & Neil Young are whom I refer to. Not to mention Lightfoot, Cohen, Cockburn, Sarah McLauchlan & others who have chosen to reside mainly in Canada.

Witnessing this performance by Neil struck a deeply resonant chord with me & the passing of Pierre Trudeau on the same weekend further amplified my feeling of Canadian patriotism & national identity. Ironically, Neil Young has probably lived in California longer than he spent growing up in this country. But he is an example of how far one can go & he continues to push boundaries with his mercurial musical disposition.

Yikes, I digress, Neil & company rolled out of "Motorcycle Mama" & rocked into "Powderfinger" from the "Rust Never Sleeps" album. This was followed by the uptempo "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" from his second album. It was apparent that we were going to get an eclectic menu on this evening.

By the time the ballad, "I Believe in You" hit it's first chorus there were alot of dewy eyes in the audience. We were in the palm of his hand & he was tugging heartstrings alternately playing that big White Falcon guitar & his Martin acoustic. And those backup vocals by Astrid & Pegi were positively angelic.

"Unknown Legend" & "Dance, Dance, Dance" were followed by one of my favorites, "Don't Let it Bring You Down". Spooner Oldham's piano was particularily effective here. Next Neil played a trio of acoustic numbers from his latest release "Silver & Gold".

I didn't really care for the song "Buffalo Springfield Again" when I first heard it on the radio this summer, but having now acquired the CD & hearing it played live, I've put it into perspective. That's an excellent guitar break between verses. "Daddy Went Walking" & "Razor Love" were good too. How many songs has this guy written anyway & when does he get the time to do it?

Neil's harmonica sounded good also. He has a wireless stereo mic system built into his harp harness, with the transmitter antennae hanging in a fabric enclosure down his back. The set-up allows him the freedom to wander around the set, digging into the groove & sharing stage chat with the band.

Another thing that sparked my curiousity is his massive red pedal board that he's been using for the past few years. Whatever it is, Neil has no problem nailing his signature electric sound either on the Falcon or the Gibson. The techies were on the ball getting his instruments on & off throughout the extended set, apart from one little glitch where the signal was unplugged momentarily.

"Comes a Time", "Peace of Mind" & "Walk On" made it clear that Neil was not afraid to delve into his archives. But this really didn't seem like an oldies event. The audience crossed generations as much as Neil crosses musical genres. White hair, long hair, purple hair & no hair. Who else can attract bikers, cowboys, skate boarders, farmers, Lexus drivers & people using walkers?

After "Bad Fog of Loneliness" Neil cranked it up a notch on that old big-bodied Gretsch White Falcon guitar. There are some who don't care for Neil's frenetic guitar scrabbling. I have always found his attack to be a transcendent zen-like treatment that owes as much to post-bebop atonalism as it does to rock. It's no wonder he has now been embraced by punk & grunge post-modernists. Rock on Neil!

The progressive time signature of "Words (Between the Lines of Age)" was treated to an extended intro jam that was getting pretty psychedelic by the time the cryptic lyrics started. This was my favorite of the night. Neil did his crazed firewalker hop around the stage as the grinding chord sequence faded into the ether.

Neil let the craziness subside for the next couple numbers beginning with his CSN&Y anthem "Helpless", tailed by "World on a String" before ending up on the upright piano for the set-ender, "Tonight's the Night". I have never heard this song sound better. Neil rocked out on the upright wearing a white straw hat & there was a short intermission before the double encore ending of the concert. "Tonight's the Night" is a very emotional piece & it was obvious there was going to be more. What we didn't know was how much more.

When the band returned Neil had strapped on his Bigsby-equipped black Les Paul guitar that he has tortured for so many years.

The opening strains of "Cowgirl in the Sand" is deceptive & forboding. Who knew that after three verses the song would morph into a wailing, gnashing beast that would stagger & stomp on for a total of 16+ minutes before ending in a howl of feedback-drenched chaos. I looked around at the elder folk in the stands & many appeared to be in a state of shock. This was heavy music for sure.

Again the band left the stage & the audience went nuts calling for more. By the time the Neil Young Band returned to the stage, this concert had featured 20 songs and run over 2 & a half hours.

Neil prefaced the last song calling it a tribute to "the Master". Which master? Dylan? Hendrix? Jumping Jehovah? I knew where he was going by now. "All Along the Watchtower" is a vehicle that many people have added to their repertoires & Neil has adopted his own take on the folk-rock classic.

This selection was an extended set-up for an amazing display of rock guitar overdose. Twisted sheets of power chord crunching & whammy bar excess ground the audience' aural receptors into shards. Numbing as peels of thunder. The meltdown ending was pure feedback heaven & when it was over, it was OVER. In his last sonic surge Neil had ripped a handful of strings off his axe & as he walked offstage he had a maniacal grin on his face. There was no going back.

Walking out of GM Place amongst the heavily blissed throng was like returning from some sort of a religious epiphany. It was a stunning performance that ranks at the top of my concert going experience. Walking past the loading bay on street level, the semi's were already being packed by the road crew. I took a couple snapshots of the Lionel Trains logo on the trailers. (Neil recently purchased a major chunk of this 100-year-old company... it's good to have a hobby).

The band buses were idling across the street & the tour was over. What a night... & to think we wouldn't have attended if my car hadn't broken down 2 weeks earlier! Not to mention we had a rather ghostly encounter back at the hotel later on, but that's another story. You have to wonder sometimes...

Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 9 albums to date (Dec '2000). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
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