Why need a radio, when you can just go to the movies and rock out, up-close and personal with one of the ugliest men in rocker?
In 2011, Neil Young drove from his idyllic hometown of Omemee, Ontario to downtown Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall where he intimately performed the last two nights of his solo world tour. This is the account of the songs he played, and they are all down by himself.
Even though I do not consider him one of my favorites of all-time, Neil Young is still one talented singer-songwriter that I can appreciate and respect for what he’s been able to do and say for the past 40 years. That’s why when I heard about a new concert film from Jonathan Demme with him as the subject, I thought it was a great way to see him up-close-and-personal. Sadly, you just don’t get the full feel in an indie move theater, as you would get with an actual concert.
If there is one thing I can give Demme for doing right with this flick, it’s that the guy knows how to film some awesome music and make it a whole lot more interesting than it has any right to be. A lot of Young’s songs, feature plenty of powerful political messages talking about the government, the environment, and controversial happenings we have had in our life-time. Almost every song Young plays here, touches on those subjects and they’re all pretty interesting to see since it’s just him and Demme never seems to want to leave his subject on-stage. The camera stays on him for every performance he does, we see exactly what cords he plays, and all of the emotion he puts into these songs. It’s a neat thing to see, especially if you have never seen him live, just like me.
But as hard as Demme tries to keep this movie alive and interesting, you just can’t help but think that there’s something holding it all back. Oh wait, I know what it is! It’s the fact that it’s just Neil Young up there, playing all by himself with barely any backing instruments, no drums, no extra-guitars, no nothing. You just get to watch Young up there, play all by himself, growl the songs all by himself, and do everything just all by himself, which makes you think why sometimes there’s a reason for rock songs to be played by a rock band, and not just one dude with an acoustic guitar.
What’s also a shame is that a lot of the other stuff where we see Young drive around Ontario and talk about his life, just isn’t all that interesting. Yeah, Young has some stories of his childhood to tell, like how he lit up a turtle with a fire-cracker (isn’t he an environmentalist?), but nothing that really digs deep-down inside of him and tells us more about him than we already know. The only thing that’s legitimately close to that is a scene where Young plays his classic rock song, “Ohio”, where images of the Kent State Shootings keep on popping-up for no reason really, other than to show you what the song is all about. This seems like another opportunity for Demme to try and get our attentions up on-screen, but that’s only one song where that actually happens. Any other song is just him, up on-stage, strumming his acoustic guitar, and jamming out all by himself. Makes him sound like a sad and lonely man, but maybe he likes it that way.
As for the actual songs themselves, they are all performed very well with great sound and intensity, mainly because Young puts so much heart and feeling into these songs that you can’t see anybody else playing them quite like him. Problem is, that a lot of the songs are mainly from his 2010 album, “Le Noise”, that actually has some pretty good tracks on there, but are little-known and you can’t help but wait in excitement for when you finally get a chance to hear the master play classics like “I Believe In You” and “Down By the River”. But regardless of what he plays, Young is still a man that shows that he can still rock out at age 66 and give the most intense performances he has ever given in his whole life. Even if it is just him.
Consensus: Neil Young Journeys may not feature much about Young’s life and may not do much else to really keep your attention on the screen, but as a concert flick, it’s got some great tracks, some great intensity from Young, and for all of his die-hards out there, this will probably nothing else but heaven, all on one, big screen.