The story goes that Neil Young once decided to build the largest stereo system in history. He filled his house with a good many of his amplifiers, then filled the barn with the rest. He then rowed out to the middle of the nearby lake with a megaphone in his hand and signaled his band to put a CD on the player.
Young listened intently for about a minute - eyes closed - then signaled his band to stop the music. He raised the megaphone to his lips. All ears turned his way."MORE BARN!" he screamed, "MORE BARN!!!!"
The funniest part about that story is no one ever doubts its. After almost 25 years of singing, Neil Young has convinced listeners he's willing - and capable - of trying anything. He'll sing "Home on the Range" a capella on a movie sound track. He'll do duets with Willie Nelson. He'll record a hard country LP that makes Buck Owens sound crossover. He'll even show up in chilly Park City on a Wednesday night and do an entire outdoor show by himself.
That kind of spontaneity has kept his music fresh while the tunes of his famous cohorts - David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash - seem to slowly wilt away.
What remains with me from Young's show is a series of impressions: The singer decked out in blue jeans, boots, plaid shirt and a ball cap with the brim rolled into a duck bill like a cross-country trucker.
Or whole minutes of Young wandering around the stage, circling his seven guitars as if each were a young lady he was debating about asking for a dance.
Or Young on an old pump, pipe organ doing "Like a Hurricane" while some wag in the audience shouts a request for "Come, Come Ye Saints."
And Young doing just one encore - "After the Gold Rush" - then leaving the stage - and the audience - empty.
No, the singer never did get around to doing "Helpless," "Tell Me Why" or "Cinnamon Girl." But, yes, he did crank up "Love Is a Rose," "Heart of Gold," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Don't Let It Bring You Down," "Comes a Time" and a good three or four new songs no one had heard.
Two moments stand out in high relief from the show. The first was a riveting version of "Tonight's the Night" on a dinged-up old upright piano. The second was "This Note's For You," the song that won an MTV video award though MTV refused to air it since the spot ridicules Pepsi, Coke, Miller, Bud and other products.
There wasn't much interplay with the crowd. At one point a fan did flip a wadded up note on stage requesting a song.
"That song has a lot of words in it," he quipped. "Besides, the band doesn't know it. Let me sing one that sounds about like it."
In fact, the only bad move the singer made all night may have been his quick exit.
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Opening for Young was the British "rave" band, James. (One of the nice things about an all-acoustic show is it takes just a few moments to switch the gear around. Each act was on and off the stage in record time.)
James did just a half-dozen songs. Their eerie, spaced out sound is - I understand - part of the new Manchester psychedelic sound. Fairly light and soft material, with some kick in the lyrics and some original moments in the vocals.
John Hammond, the finest white-boy blues singer America has produced, started things off doing what he does best - traditional Delta blues. I bought a John Hammond album in 1966. On Wednesday he sounded just as he does on the record.
Truth be told, you probably have to be just as good on the blues guitar as Hammond to fully appreciate what an incredible talent he is. The way he carries the rhythm, the bass and the lead guitar work all on one guitar makes him a literal one-man band.
And when John Hammond does the blues - to paraphrase the W.B. Yeats - it becomes impossible to tell the singer from the song.