Rocking our world
Should uncompromising artists bow to fans?By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 12, 2003
Neil Young's "concert" Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa and my subsequent review generated so much Team Pop e-mail, I thought we should discuss a little something called "artistic integrity."
First, let's get everyone up to speed:
Young did something only an artist with his conviction would do. Though most "classic rock" acts - think the Stones, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac - are happy to dust off their hits on tour year after year, performing them for fans happy to pay enormous amounts of money to hear them, ol' Neil finds more merit in trying something new artistically.
That's what Young did Monday. The 57-year-old musician chose not to perform familiar songs from his four-decade career. Instead, Young and his backing band, Crazy Horse, performed, in order, every song from Greendale, Young's concept album to be released in August. They were accompanied by a gigantic set that included props of country porches, an automobile, actors in costumes, dancers and a video screen. Some of the songs rocked; others were a bit, uh, ho-hum.
At any rate, fans spending from $35 to $75 to catch Young on this tour (which kicked off in West Palm Beach the night before), went into the arena with no idea that they wouldn't be hearing Old Man, or Rockin' In The Free World or Cinnamon Girl. Instead, they got a bizarre rock opera featuring songs they had never heard. (To be fair, Young has been performing a few hits during encore sets.) Clear Channel, the tour's promoter, is not marketing the tour as a live performance of Greendale.
Young's fans know that he's an uncompromising artist. This is the guy who routinely irks his record labels, whether it's by recording an album of electronica in the early 1980s - before it was chic and marketable - or going rockabilly before that, too, was fashionable. Young has always followed his own muse.
Some of this week's e-mail indicated that Young's fans are proud of the musician's commitment to explore new artistic terrain. Check it out:
"Bands who tour with no new material are just milking their old work for all it's worth and not earning their keep," writes Scott Crown of St. Petersburg, who attended Monday's concert. "How often does the chance come along to see an artist debut their newest album (not yet released!) to his fans with so much conviction and vulnerability? Neil has my utmost respect."
Crown's point is excellent: Young was clearly ecstatic Monday, talking to fans between songs - Young fans will tell you, that's rare - excited to be sharing Greendale's material.
"I don't think there is ever a guarantee of what you'll hear at any show," writes Eric Baxter, who caught Monday's show and the West Palm Beach concert, "just a promise of entertainment." Baxter says that if folks are going to a Neil Young concert to catch an oldies act, they're going to see the wrong guy.
Many other letters supported Young. Still, lots of fans who attended the concert were ticked off:
"Do you have any suggestions who we can e-mail or write about our total dissatisfaction with last night's concert (or whatever it was?)" writes Paul Richter of Tampa. Richter and his wife, Julie, spent $150 on two tickets, plus $15 to park for a night of "pure torture." How did Richter and his wife feel the following morning? "Cheated."
"I was totally hoodwinked at last night's show," writes Michael Slosberg of St. Petersburg. "For what I paid for a ticket, it was not fair." A longtime fan, Slosberg saw Young in the early 1990s when he toured with alternative rockers Sonic Youth. Slosberg loved that tour because it "turned off the old hippies," but, he writes, "I knew what I was getting into before I walked into the building." Not so this year. "This show was billed as Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Anyone going to this show has a right to be angry," he says.
So, are rock stars allowed to be artists? What do we expect when we walk into an arena? What are the rules? Should we praise Neil Young for following his muse? Or chastise him for "cheating" us? It's an interesting discussion. And think about it: We wouldn't be having it if guys like him didn't exist.
- To contact Gina Vivinetto, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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