September 15, 2019

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Inside Neil Young's treasure chest

Five things not nearly enough to adequately describe Canadian musician's body of work

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2019 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sunday, Feb. 3 will be Super Sunday in Winnipeg, and it won’t be because of some forgettable four-down football game being played between TV commercials in the States somewhere.

Neil Young is rock ’n’ roll royalty, especially in Winnipeg, where he’s arguably the city’s most famous celebrity. It’s almost unnecessary to mention Young’s ties to Kelvin High School, the Crescentwood and Earl Grey community centres where he played with the Squires and the Crescentwood house he lived in in the 1960s that still attracts curious onlookers including Young’s fans and even Bob Dylan all these years later.

So, when Young decides to pay a two-night visit with Crazy Horse starting on Sunday night at the Burton Cummings Theatre, there will be plenty of excited ticketholders singing Come on Baby, Let’s Go Downtown.

The Burt show is sold out, but there are a few dozen available for Monday’s show at the Centennial Concert Hall.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/2/2019 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Sunday, Feb. 3 will be Super Sunday in Winnipeg, and it won’t be because of some forgettable four-down football game being played between TV commercials in the States somewhere.

Concert preview

Click to Expand

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

With William Prince

Sunday, Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m.

Burton Cummings Theatre

Sold out

Monday, Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m.

Centennial Concert Hall

Tickets $149-$249 at centennialconcerthall.com

Neil Young is rock ’n’ roll royalty, especially in Winnipeg, where he’s arguably the city’s most famous celebrity. It’s almost unnecessary to mention Young’s ties to Kelvin High School, the Crescentwood and Earl Grey community centres where he played with the Squires and the Crescentwood house he lived in in the 1960s that still attracts curious onlookers including Young’s fans and even Bob Dylan all these years later.

So, when Young decides to pay a two-night visit with Crazy Horse starting on Sunday night at the Burton Cummings Theatre, there will be plenty of excited ticketholders singing Come on Baby, Let’s Go Downtown.

Whenever Neil Young comes to town, it's a big deal for music fans. (Rich Fury / Invision files)

Whenever Neil Young comes to town, it's a big deal for music fans. (Rich Fury / Invision files)

The Burt show is sold out, but there are a few dozen available for Monday’s show at the Centennial Concert Hall.

After an opening set by Peguis singer-songwriter William Prince — the 2017 Juno winner for contemporary roots album — Young will take the stage and will play classics from his acoustic career — classics such as Heart of Gold and Harvest Moon immediately come to mind — and then will be joined by Crazy Horse, which includes original members Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, as well as Nils Lofgren, who played with the group in the 1970s before launching a solo career and then joining Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

The last time Young appeared onstage in Winnipeg was at the concert hall in January 2014, for his Honor the Treaties Tour, which raised funds and awareness of First Nations in northern Alberta and their legal fight against oilsands development. In 2012, Young toured Canadian hockey arenas with Crazy Horse, including a November 2012 stop at the Bell MTS Place.

A youthful Neil Young (from left) played with the Squires in the 1960s alongside Bill Edmundson, Ken Koblun and Jeff Wuckert. (The Canadian Press files)

A youthful Neil Young (from left) played with the Squires in the 1960s alongside Bill Edmundson, Ken Koblun and Jeff Wuckert. (The Canadian Press files)

Trying to distil Young’s career into five songs, or even five albums, is a ridiculous pursuit. He’s taken his music on so many twists and turns that there are folkie fans who love his acoustic material but could live without Young cranking up his famous electric guitar, Old Black. Conversely, there are rockers who don’t need to hear Heart of Gold yet again.

So let’s separate Young’s career into five parts, and see how many you groove to:

Neil Young, the folksinger

Young at Toronto's Massey Hall in 1971. (National Archives of Canada)

Young at Toronto's Massey Hall in 1971. (National Archives of Canada)

Heart of Gold or Old Man alone will get the 73-year-old Young gigs until he says enough already. There are dozens of other memorable tunes that visit his early days (Sugar Mountain, 1968), music history (From Hank to Hendrix, 1992); tragedy (The Needle and the Damage Done, 1972) or sad reminiscences (Long May You Run, 1976 and This Old Guitar, 2005).

Neil Young, the activist

The most famous of these songs is Ohio, which Young wrote shortly after four students were killed when the U.S. national guard fired on an anti-Vietnam War protest at Kent State University in 1970. Since then, Young has spoken out on countless issues, including collective bargaining (Union Man, 1980); blind patriotism (Rockin’ in the Free World, 1989); the war in Iraq (Living With War, 2006); farm chemicals (Monsanto Years, 2015); and even commercialism in music (This Note’s For You, 1988), which might be an appropriate tune to hear on Super Bowl Sunday.

Young played a series of benefit concerts in 2014 to raise funds and awareness for First Nations groups in northern Alberta. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Young played a series of benefit concerts in 2014 to raise funds and awareness for First Nations groups in northern Alberta. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Neil Young rocking with Crazy Horse

Listeners usually focus on two huge albums to binge on Crazy Horse jam sessions: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere from 1969 and 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps, but that would overlook 14 other Crazy Horse albums including Zuma, which includes the 1975 anthem Cortez the Killer and the 1989 renaissance Ragged Glory, which has Mansion on the Hill.

Neil Young, the tinkerer

There are hobbyists, and then there is Neil Young, who enjoyed sharing his love of model trains with his sons so much he eventually created a group to buy Lionel, the toy railroad company, in 1995.

In 2015, Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal and Neil Young discussed bringing the PonoMusic catalog and HD quality audio into vehicles. (Camilla Sjodin / Harman files)

In 2015, Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal and Neil Young discussed bringing the PonoMusic catalog and HD quality audio into vehicles. (Camilla Sjodin / Harman files)

When digital music began taking over the industry, Young, who was upset with the poor quality of MP3 recordings, helped create the Pono player, which played music using larger digital files. He started the project in 2012, but by 2017, he halted production of any more players, despite having the product be well received by audiophiles.

Finally, Young merged his love of classic cars — the Squires famously rode from gig to gig in a 1948 hearse Young named Mort — with his beliefs in environmental activism, helping create the Lincvolt, a 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible with an hybrid-electric engine instead of a gas-guzzling V-8. Cruising in it inspired Young on a whole new album of driving tunes, 2009’s Fork in the Road.

Neil Young, the archivist

Young looked ahead during his career when he decided to record and store concert after concert while on tour. His fans are among the beneficiaries, whether it’s from awesome discs such as Live at Massey Hall 1971 — which has him playing Heart of Gold before anyone knew it was going to be a hit, and therefore has none of the usual dopey applause by the crowd after Young plays the first couple of notes — and Live at Fillmore East, a 1970 recording that is an awesome prep for Sunday and Monday’s Crazy Horse set. In all, Young’s archives have spawned five box sets and 12 concert CDs, and Young promises more.

Naturally, the archives also have a home on the web, neilyoungarchives.com, which is a one-shop stop for Rusties, and includes streams of Young’s music and concert ticket information.

Young with his 1959 Lincoln Continental, which was converted from an inefficient fuel guzzler to a hybrid electric that can potentially get in the range of 40 kilometres per litre. (Travis Heying / The Wichita Eagle files)

Young with his 1959 Lincoln Continental, which was converted from an inefficient fuel guzzler to a hybrid electric that can potentially get in the range of 40 kilometres per litre. (Travis Heying / The Wichita Eagle files)

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Arts and Life Editor

Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.

Read full biography

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