Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Neil Young Journeys: Another Demme Concert Film

Toronto’s Massey Hall was the site of a now legendary bebop concert, producing the only live recording cut by the all-star quintet of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charlie Mingus.  That was in 1953.  A lot of headliners have played the storied hall since then, including native son Neil Young, whose rather workaday 2011 homecoming solo sets are documented in Neil Young Journeys (trailer here), his latest concert film directed by Jonathan Demme, which opens this Friday in New York.

If you like distortion, these were the Neil Young shows for you.  Despite the presence of greatest hits like “Hey Hey, My My,” Young draws fairly heavily from his then latest CD, Le Noise, as rockers are apt to do.  It is not called “The Noise” for nothing, but the hard rocking vibe helps compensate for the whininess of his more activist fare, like “Ohio.”

Surprisingly, some of Journeys’ strongest scenes feature Young talking rather than playing.  Cruising to the gig in a vintage 1956 Crown Victoria, the rocker discusses growing up in Omemee, Ontario and his father, the late sportswriter (most notable hockey, but of course) Scott Young for Demme’s camera. He even gives viewers a drive-by of the elementary school named for his father.

If nothing else, one thing comes through loud and clear during Journeys: Young is very definitely still stuck in the 1960’s.  Granted, fans will expect to hear “Ohio,” but the Kent State A-V guilt trip (the only time Demme departs from his intimate, in-his-grill focus on the guitarist) is more than a tad heavy-handed, not to mention disproportionate, compared to scope of subsequent tragedies, like September 11th.

By and large, the concert footage’s saturated neon colors are reasonably cinematic, while cinematographer Declan Quinn and his mike-cam capture all Young’s stubble and spittle (for real).  Though it is unlikely to win over a host of converts, Young fans have probably been psyched for it, ever since it played Toronto and Park City.  In point of fact, several online sources currently misstate Journeys’ festival credentials, confusing Sundance (where previous Demme-Young docs screened) and Slamdance (where this one had a special featured screening earlier in the year).  Regardless, this is one largely for the faithful.  It opens this Friday (6/29) in New York at the AMC Empire and Landmark Sunshine.  The Quintet’s Jazz at Massey Hall by contrast, is recommended for wide audiences and is available from all quality online retailers.