Metro Cinema at the Garneau
There may be no lonelier image in rock and roll than that of Neil Young alone on stage in the 1970′s, specifically in the images of a young Neil placed atop the stage of Toronto’s Massey Hall. This is a concert that has lived on in legend amongst Neil Young fans, partly due to the showcasing of then-new songs that became essentials.
Jonathon Demme’s third and apparently final film into the world of Neil Young finds the musician and Demme’s camera returning to Massey Hall with Young alone, set amongst an elaborate stage set-up, playing a few “essentials” and a lot of should-be essentials from the 2010 Daniel Lanois produced album Le Noise.
The tag line for the entire show falls along the lines of “I said solo, not acoustic,” as Young tears through the new songs with a ferocity that feels only suited to man himself. He re-imagines essentials like a beefed up, electrified “Ohio” interspersed with archival news footage of the Kent State Massacre and an intense “Down By the River.” Demme employs an almost intrusive camera angle situated right at Young’s mouth that lingers on him throughout almost the entire rendition of “Hitchhiker,” complete with a blotch of saliva obscuring the lens for almost half of it. It starts to feel dizzying and intrusive but sums up the tone of the subject and film .
Because this isn’t a straightforward concert film, Young takes Demme (or is it Demme takes Young) for a drive up to Omemee Ontario, Neil’s boyhood town – “the town in north Ontario” – which we know is not that far north. Young sits behind the wheel of a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria, following his brother in the Cadillac up ahead. Narrating his own childhood for the viewer, touching on small childhood memories of sliding down the school fire escape, camping out, eating tar from the road, explaining he’d “do anything for a nickel.” The subject matter never touches upon his creative process or what he thinks about current music, or the state of the world. He isn’t asked. I imagine it’s apparent in the songs (see “Angry World”) but Young has never been one too cozy-up and spill about his life.
The film is simplistic but there are subtleties to be appreciated. Demme’s camera conjures up the growing cracks at the top of Neil’s hat as he places his head down to the organ keys during “After the Gold Rush;” or the one bead of sweat slowly moving southward down his forehead, confirmation that Young is still giving it.
Journeys is a nice wrap-up and a perfectly framed piece. Le Noise was an album of personal recollection. It’s fitting that some of the last lines Young utters on stage and film to a standing ovation are “I lost some people I was traveling with…. I’m on this Journey I don’t want to walk alone…Walk With Me.”