Neil Young performed in concert for around 6,000 fans who packed the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on Monday night, July 10, 2023, the seventh stop on the singer-songwriter’s 15-date all-outdoor all-acoustic solo “Coastal Tour” up and down the West Coast.
This reporter, who’s been following the artist’s musical career since 1967, also attended the tour’s second sold-out show, on Saturday night, July 1, at The Ford, a more intimate 1,200-seat amphitheater in Hollywood’s Cahuenga Pass a few miles from the Greek.
Young’s first musical road trip since 2019 sold out almost immediately. For fans of a certain age, his tour is the event of the season.
Setting the Stages: Neil’s Outdoor Home Studio
On both nights, a lot of love from the audience warmed the nighttime cool, and the 77-year-old returned it from the stage. Young’s presence easily filled both outdoor amphitheaters. His unmistakable voice was leathery but still plaintive when it counted as he seamlessly weaved together songs spanning 1966 to 2022.
He did have a little help from his trusty Martin acoustic, Old Black the Gibson Les Paul, his Gretsch White Falcon, thrashed upright, rescued grand, funky pump organ, and maybe even the psychedelic baby grand we never saw him play, either at The Ford or the Greek.
No stacks of Marshalls, just four or five tweedy old Fender amps, a Harley-Davidson-branded foot switch panel behind Young’s mike/mic at center stage, a stump as a side table for his harmonicas, and a bar stool to sit on if desired. Behind the amps, a wood-burning stove stuffed with potted plants added to the living room/barn/back porch ambiance. The scene blended beautifully with The Ford’s natural hillside backdrop.
There’s no bad seat at The Ford, where my wife Nadine and I were last-minute guests of our TV events producer friend Jim Piccirillo and his lovely wife Brenda. Young had opened the tour there the previous night and early reviews were raves; anticipation grew on Night No. 2 as the audience filled the amphitheater. The natural and man-made visuals before us were stunning, and once the show got started with Chris Pierce (see more about him later in this recap), we thought the sound quality was very good from our center-aisle seats in Row P.
As otherwise unconnected, budget-conscious civilians these days, Nadine and I had bought our own seats for the Greek weeks earlier. The cheapest in the house – all the way in the back. If we’d been any farther back, we’d have been Tree People. We couldn’t see anything on the stage worth a s**t, but the sound was surprisingly good way up there just left of center. The big video screens on either side of the stage remained dark during his set.
But since Young’s show doesn’t involve pyrotechnics, dancing girls, or stage diving, and we know what he looks like already, good sound was our primary concern. We figured fans up close who paid hundreds for their tickets would post some good video we could watch later, which proved partially true, as you’ll see below (don’t get me started on amateurs shooting in portrait mode).
At both venues, only a handful of people around us were younger than 65. Lots of gray hair and wrinkles. Time has been merciless. But nobody was smoking weed. At the Greek, which would have been blanketed in a cannabis haze in the old days, we did notice numerous people vaping instead.
Neil Young Sets at The Ford & Greek Theatre
Young’s Greek set stuck very close to the 17-song set we’d seen July 1 at The Ford, mostly deep tracks with just a few hits. On July 10, he performed 18 songs, dropping one and adding two: He followed “Mr. Soul” by adding “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” then followed “Ohio” by dropping “Days That Used to Be” and adding “Comes a Time,” a delightful surprise.
Young was in good spirits at both shows, interacting smart-aleck-y with the cheekier fans up front at the Greek when they shouted out random song titles.
Affable and self-deprecating, he shared stories and asides as he fumbled his way through numerous harmonica changes, or wandered from one instrumental setup to another for the next song like he was puttering around in his home studio.
At The Ford, he said he’d been hesitant to go back out on the road after the pandemic (he last toured in 2019) and asked his pal and Farm Aid co-conspirator Willie Nelson for advice. Willie said he was hesitant to get back out on the road again too. Eventually, he decided to just play outdoor gigs. “So I’m staying outdoors,” Young said.
Love in its many forms and manifestations was a theme threading through Young’s sets (indeed, he also had a small lightbox onstage flashing “LOVE”), including caring for our fragile, damaged Mother Earth. He opened with an acoustic “I’m the Ocean,” recorded with Pearl Jam for “Mirror Ball” (1995), and followed with “Homefires,” a laid-back rarity he first released on “Archives Volume II: 1972-1976” mid-pandemic in late 2020.
At the Greek, Young intro’d “Burned” from Buffalo Springfield’s first album saying it was from his first-ever recording session in Hollywood, at a studio “just down the street, not far from here, in 1966,” and “On the Way Home” as something he wrote for Springfield’s third album, “Last Time Around” (in 1968, as he was on the way out the door), and that he always enjoys playing it for people. (Clips below from The Ford sound good; sorry not landscape.)
On his “Coastal Tour,” Young is playing “If You Got Love” onstage for the first time since 1986; also making its live debut is “A Dream That Can Last,” from 1994’s “Sleeps with Angels” album with Crazy Horse, the source of “My Heart” and “Prime of Life” as well.
Young strapped on Old Black for “Throw Your Hatred Down,” another “Mirror Ball” track stripped down to its bare essentials and underscoring the evening’s message.
Young felt completely at ease but was also careful not to disrespect his audience. There was lots of unscripted humor, often because he screwed something up:
Among the many similarly humorous moments at the Greek, Young recalled Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young played their first gig there (August 31, 1969). He paused a beat.
“They’re not here,” he deadpanned, and everyone cracked up.
He also said nice things about his buddy Stephen Stills, recalling how Stephen had bought new Martins for all the Buffalo Springfield guys. Young said he wrote a lotta songs on his. He was playing the same guitar at both shows, along with his beloved black and white electrics.
At one point Young bitched good-naturedly to his undoubtedly stressed-out guitar tech because a guitar wasn’t tuned correctly. Then to his patient, tolerant audience: “I gotta get this right for you guys, you deserve it! You’re a real professional audience.” More laughs.
“When I Hold You in My Arms” appeared in a NY set for the first time since Farm Aid in 2001 with Crazy Horse, but more intimately in a solo setting. “Mr. Soul,” a blazing-guitars classic from Buffalo Springfield’s epic second album, “Again” (1967), sounded otherworldly as performed on the pump organ with harmonica, like something broadcast from a mossy swamp on Mars.
“Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” comes from the “Ragged Glory” album with Crazy Horse (1990) and revisits his message of love and respect for the planet.
“Ohio” is the angry anthem Young wrote and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young recorded in the immediate aftermath of National Guardsmen killing four unarmed students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. The dead were among a large group of people on the campus protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia during the darkest years of the Vietnam War.
The nostalgic “Days That Used to Be” from “Ragged Glory” with Crazy Horse (1990) followed “Ohio” at The Ford; at the Greek, it was “Comes a Time,” the title song of Young’s acclaimed 1978 album.
“Don’t Forget Love” was the live debut of a track he recorded with Crazy Horse for “Barn” (2021). He closed both concerts with “Heart of Gold” from “Harvest” (1972). Half a century after he wrote this, yeah, we’re growing really old. Some of us have found a heart of gold, some haven’t. But we’ve all been miners and keep on searching.
He closed both concerts with “Heart of Gold” from “Harvest” (1972); after 51 years, we’re growing old, for sure; some of us have found a heart of gold, and some are still searching.
After standing ovations and calls for more, Young returned for a two-song encore, starting with “Love Earth” from “World Record” with Crazy Horse (2022), urging us to do so, even turning it into a sing-along of the title (the Ford audience seemed more enthusiastic).
His final song, on a 12-string acoustic, was a cover of “Four Strong Winds,” which he’d recorded for “Comes a Time,” as a nod to its recently departed writer, fellow Canadian Ian Tyson. Young intro’d the song at the Greek by saying he’d first heard it as an Ian & Sylvia single on a jukebox. He played the record over and over again until he learned the song.
“Cost me a lotta quarters,” he quipped.
Long May Neil Run
Both nights felt like a journey with Neil Young through his past, present, and future. We know he was really referring to a car in “Long May You Run,” but allow me to extrapolate and extend that sentiment to Young. We’ve been fortunate to ride shotgun with him on this wild road trip on the human highway for going on six decades now. May his motel of lost companions always await with heated pool and bar.
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Neil Young ‘Coastal Tour’ dates (as of 7/14/23)
* Friday, June 30 – Los Angeles – The Ford
* Saturday, July 1 – Los Angeles – The Ford
* Monday, July 3 – Los Angeles – The Ford
* Wednesday, July 5 – Los Angeles – The Ford
* Friday, July 7 – Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara Bowl
* Saturday, July 8 – Paso Robles – Vina Robles Amphitheatre
* Mon, July 10 – Los Angeles – The Greek Theatre
* Tuesday, July 11 – San Diego – The Shell
* Thursday, July 13 – Los Angeles – The Greek Theatre
* Saturday, July 15 – Berkeley – The Greek
* Monday, July 17 – Bend, OR – Hayden Homes Amphitheater
* Tuesday, July 18 – Ridgefield, WA – RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater
* Thursday, July 20 – Auburn, WA – White River Amphitheatre
* Sunday, July 23 – Napa – Oxbow RiverStage
* Monday, July 24 – Lake Tahoe, NV – Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s
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Neil Young Opener Chris Pierce Earns Rousing Response
Chris Pierce, a seasoned acoustic guitar-playing singer-songwriter from Pasadena with a remarkable vocal range and powerful, thought-provoking songs about the effects of racism and oppression, was an excellent choice to open Young’s summer 2023 Coastal Tour.
Pierce engaged his audiences early at both the Ford and the Greek. He commanded more attention than usually afforded an opening act, particularly impressive at the 5,900-seat Greek, where the audience hushed to listen soon after the first song.
Along the way, Pierce shared his appreciation of the opportunity at hand and a little personal and family background, including his loss of hearing in one ear and partial deafness in the other due to a childhood illness. If he hadn’t told us, we’d never have known.
Pierce, a large man with a booming, sometimes soaring voice, sang with a power reminiscent of Big Joe Turner as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, performing a handful of original songs in a contemporary folk-blues-Americana style.
Highlights included “Chain Gang Fourth of July,” about unjust imprisonment in the land of the free; and “The Bridge to John,” a tribute to the late civil rights icon John Lewis, both songs from Pierce’s “American Silence” album (2021).
The most powerful moments for this reviewer came in Price’s spoken intro, and the dramatic music and lyrics of “Tulsa Town.” A ballad in 3/4 time from Pierce’s forthcoming “Let All Who Will” album (due in September) flashes back to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, when white racists massacred hundreds of Black residents in Tulsa’s then-thriving Greenwood district, burning more than 1,250 homes and wiping out Black businesses. Pierce’s performance of the song at the Greek, just one day after a judge in Oklahoma had killed a lawsuit filed on behalf of Tulsa massacre survivors for reparations, was especially bittersweet.
At the end of his sets at both venues, Pierce and his mighty pipes deservedly received standing ovations from many in the audience.
Catch up with Pierce’s remarkable story and watch official videos of those songs and more on his website.
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Random Personal Notes You Can Skip
This piece started as a six- or seven-sentence Facebook post that grew until I had to move it here.
On the way into the Greek, about 6:30 p.m., we had to park in a clearing way up a hillside covered with shady California oaks, and spotted a coyote in the next parking lot, about 20 yards away. A parking attendant much closer had to chase off the confused canine just as other cars rolled into the clearing, encroaching on its natural habitat in the Hollywood Hills.
After the concert, I ate an absolutely disgusting, unhealthy, and delicious street hot dog covered with grilled onions, purchased from one of the dozens of street vendors we walked by on the way back to the car. We also bought a bootleg jersey from another of the dozens of roaming street vendors (we’d bought an official cap and t-shirt at the Ford and a set of the three Coastal posters at the Greek before that, not to mention tickets, so don’t judge us).
FWIW, like most of the folks at the Greek, it seemed, I’m an OG Neil Young fan. My story is hardly unique, I know.
The short version: As a 15-year-old in early 1967, I bought (what I later learned was the second pressing of) Buffalo Springfield’s debut album, after “For What It’s Worth” was a hit in Miami (Top 5) and across the country.
Stephen Stills’ powerful statement resonated with me as a rebellious adolescent who was also politically aware and soon to be draft bait. Beyond “FWIW,” though, I discovered Young’s “Clancy,” “Burned,” “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It,” and “Out of My Mind.” On the second BS album, “Again,” “Mr. Soul” and his adventurous work with Jack Nitzsche and members of the Wrecking Crew on “Expecting to Fly” and “Broken Arrow” sealed it for me.
In the summer of ’68, when my family moved to L.A., I was crushed to learn Buffalo Springfield had played its last gig just weeks before we arrived.
“Last Time Around” was one of three albums I bought in one day that summer (The Doors’ “Waiting for the Sun” and Moody Blues’ “In Search of the Lost Chord” were the others).
Neil’s solo stuff had me from the first notes of “Emperor of Wyoming” later that year and with Crazy Horse from “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” in ’69.
He was living in Topanga then; I was six years younger and orbiting in a completely different universe as a high school senior a few miles and cultural light years away in Canoga Park, down in the San Fernando Valley, playing his records. I spent a lot of time in the canyon, hitchhiking to the beach, maybe stopping at the shopping center or the Old Post Office midway for a bite, or hiking all day down in the creek.
But Neil Young and I never crossed paths back then, or in my 45 years in the biz in L.A., as it’s turned out, though we had a few mutual friends.
Over the decades, I’ve seen Young with CSNY, with the Stills-Young Band (1975 review adjacent), and with Crazy Horse, but the Ford and Greek shows are the only times I’ve seen him solo.
While the Greek scene was not quite as intimate for us as the Ford, where tears of joyful nostalgia rolled down my cheeks during “OTWH” and “Heart of Gold,” Young got pretty close considering the Greek is a several times larger cap venue. We were happy to just be in the house, and experience again some of the magic we felt at The Ford.
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Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multi-media writer-producer and award-winning radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles by career newspaper journalists and music lovers. Based in Santa Clarita, just north of L.A., Peeples wrapped a 45-year media career in 2021 to work on book projects and the occasional post. See the “Stephen K. Peeples” page on his website. You’ll find more original stories and exclusive interviews posted there and on his YouTube channel.
Article: Neil Young Goes ‘Coastal’ at The Ford, Greek Theatre in L.A.
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: stephenkpeeples.com