A Weekend on The Rocks: Neil Young, Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, Trombone Shorty and Counting Crows

Three of my past four nights have been spent at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre up in Morrison, making this a banner season in my short time frequenting the venue.  This is my fourth season at the Rocks and although I publicly bashed this year’s schedule, it has turned out to be an unexpectedly good year.  The weather has been great, the performances have lived up to (and many times exceeded) expectations, and the venue itself continues to stand tall as the premier place to see live music in these United State of America…and possibly on this planet we call Earth.  In fact, the venue itself was the draw for the shows I saw this weekend.  Not being a huge follower of Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, or (current) Counting Crows, I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have gone to these shows anywhere else.  Thankfully they were booked in the right location, because every one impressed in one form or another.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse 08.05.12

Getting to Red Rocks an hour and a half early usually guarantees a prime spot in the Upper North lot, but when we rolled in at 6pm last night, we were told the lot had been full for well over an hour.  Now, I’ll admit it, I don’t know very much about Neil Young’s music.  My knowledge doesn’t go much further than After the Gold Rush and a handful of hits.  For the first time, I felt alone in what many call my second home — alone among a sea of America’s children.  These people were hardcore!

My buddy and I had a conversation in the parking lot about how the experience of a live performance is based on much more than just the performance itself.  You have to take into consideration quite a few other factors.  Who did you go with?  What kind of attitude did you go in with?  What were you expectations?  What songs did the band play?  What was the energy level?  How was the sound?  What did you eat or drink?  And how much?  A band could put on the performance of a lifetime and some people would hate it.  A band could also be mediocre and change someone’s life.  Walking into Neil Young last night, we were just hoping for some songs we recognized.  We were hoping for a ‘greatest hits’ show.  Without a background on Neil Young or Crazy Horse, it was the most we could hope for.

What we got was 2+ hours of music we’d never heard before.  What we got was the experience of a lifetime.  Coming from someone who doesn’t care for jambands, I could have listened to these survivors from another generation jam for hours!  I didn’t realize what an incredible electric guitar player Neil Young is.  And watching him onstage with Crazy Horse, all in white shirts and blues jeans, back-to-back jamming like they were put on this planet to do just that, told me all I needed to know to justify a crowd that shows up 3 hours early.  Young might always have a nasty look on this face, but there was no doubt that those men on that stage were having just as much fun as the fans overflowing from the rows between the monoliths.

has Crazy Horse ever played here before…we don’t remember”  I’m sure the answer to that question is yes, but the answer to why I’ve never paid attention to the lyrics in “Walk Like A Giant” are beyond me.*  I was still lost in that song when he performed an acoustic, solo rendition of “The Needle And The Damage Done”, the one song I knew I wanted to hear before walking into the show.  But to sit here and give you a rundown of songs and humorous quips (“here’s one I wrote this morning…called Cinnamon Girl”)  would act as a pale shadow of what I can honestly say was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  (all factors considered)

Literally more metal than jamband, last night’s performance made me lose respect for myself.  How I can be so into music and so blind to the songwriting and performing genius that is Neil Young?  The fact that I’m going to work on answering that question is what made this show a life changing experience.  Singing along with the set closer, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”, there was no doubt that while so many have died, Neil Young & Crazy Horse are here to make sure rock and roll never will.

The only misstep of the whole night was coming back for a weak encore after such a strong close.  For someone so versed in the ways of the crowd, it seemed ill planned. **

* I now realize this, among other songs performed, are actually from an upcoming release.
** With so many comments on this, I have to admit I was wrong. It seems the encore was a crowd favorite and something special for the fans. I’m just bummed the moment was lost on me due to my own ignorance of its significance.

Alabama Shakes 08.05.12

Brittany Howard was nervous last night.  Whether is was the pressure to impress the over-capacity crowd, opening for the legendary Neil Young, or just playing the venue itself, she refused to make eye contact with the reality in front of her.  Now, that’s not to say she didn’t do her job up there, belting out one blues number after another — showing off her incredible range like it ain’t no thang.  Those familiar with the band previous known simply as The Shakes were not disappointed with staples like “Hold On”, “Heavy Chevy” and “I Found You”, but it was the down-n-dirty selections like “Always Alright” that really brought the house down.  Overall, it was a nice, long, opening set from a band that deserves the attention they are receiving, but in all honesty, it did not live up to the show at The Fox earlier this year…and this type of music really does belong in a dark, whiskey stank bar under the blue light.

My Morning Jacket 08.03.12

If you are a My Morning Jacket fan, you probably have nothing bad to say about Friday night’s marathon of a set.  Taking the stage at 9:30 with “Rollin’ Back” from 2003′ It Still Moves, Jim James and crew opted for a simple stage setting, with nothing but a stand of yellow lights to augment the natural beauty of the rocks behind them.  With a promise not to repeat a single song during their two-night stand, the prolific band managed to perform no less than two (and sometimes as many as five) tracks from every studio album, as well as a handful of rarities and excellent covers.  The wind that’s known to wreak havoc on the sound at Red Rocks only added to the atmosphere as James performed from behind a heavy mane of hair, and a cyclone of fog.  There really isn’t a bad thing to say about My Morning Jacket’s live performance, but for some reason the set just lacked the excitement that made me such a fan last year.  I will admit to not being the biggest My Morning Jacket follower (my favorite album is still Z), but there was a time during this three hour set that I found my mind wandering.  To be honest, I was almost bored.  But every time I considered wrapping it up and calling it a night, they would pull out another stunner and I’d find my feet glued in place waiting for what came next.  The tracks from Z, the cover songs, and an incredibly strong encore that lasted well past midnight made the show for me, as well as the ecstasy radiating from the people around me, but as much as I can respect and understand the appeal of My Morning Jacket, this will probably be the last time I’ll see them live.  By the sounds of those leaving the amphitheatre, I am among the small minority in feeling this way…at least among those who were still there at the end.

Band of Horses 08.03.12

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I first saw Band of Horses perform at the Metro in Chicago.  That set, packed with material from the mind-blowing Everything All the Time, along with an insane cover of Ronnie Wood’s “Act Together”, is something I will never forget.  Unfortunately, the band had been unable to create that initial intensity, either in recorded material or in their live performance, ever since.  But that’s not to say they are a bad band.  On Friday night they opened with a couple tracks from their upcoming Mirage Rock before going into a few from their previous two albums, but it wasn’t until Everything All the Time‘s “The First Song” that we got a glimpse of the band I fell in love with years ago.  “The Great Salt Lake”, “Weed Party” and the closer, “The Funeral”, were all great to hear, but (surprisingly) it was during “Is There A Ghost” when they really took it up a notch and proved they are more than just another ‘dad rock’ band.  Over time, Band of Horses have just mellowed out a little too much for my taste.  They have become better musicians, with a tighter (more polished) sound, but I can’t help but wish they’d just let loose and show us more of those humble beginnings .

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue 08.03.12

Trombone Shorty is a young musician from New Orleans.  The trumpet and trombone player dabbles in various sounds from him hometown, including, but not limited to jazz, funk and hip-hop.  I had never heard from Shorty or his Orleans Avenue ensemble before I walked into Red Rocks on Friday night, but I feel extremely privileged to have caught their set.  In fact, it was the highlight of my night.  Running through New Orleans classics, many of which are probably mostly recently recognized as samples in songs from Kanye West, they had the small, but enthusiastic crowd on their feet, singing and dancing along. Dual saxophone, trombone, trumpet — this hard working band might not have been used to performing at such elevation, “ain’t no joke!“, but that didn’t dull even a second of their tremendous set.

Counting Crows 08.02.12

The lack of response to my invite to go see Counting Crows on Thursday night wasn’t surprising.  Even the lure of comp’d tickets wouldn’t budge those in my social circle.  There is a part of me that understands this, but I do not understand confusing Counting Crows with the likes of Gin Blossoms, Train or (uggghh) Hootie & The Blowfish.  A compilation album comprised of the best songs songs from those bands wouldn’t hold a torch to August and Everything After.  If you hit puberty within a decade of that debut album, you have no excuse not to know every word to every song.  I’m not saying it’s a groundbreaking work of staggering genius, it’s just one of those albums that defined a time.  So, when Adam Duritz took the stage, with his ridiculous mess of mangy dreads, and sang “Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog…“, I knew I made the right decision by rolling solo.  Opening with “Round Here” was somewhat of a false promise as to how much August material would be performed on this particular night, but even though “Omaha” and “Perfect Blue Buildings” were glaring holes in the setlist, I am happy to report that Counting Crows sound as good as they did when I saw them in ’96.  “Mr. Jones”, an extended “Rain King”, and even a few tracks from the underrated Recovering the Satellites were all highlights of the night, but even the new stuff didn’t sound like it was coming from a band hanging on to a ledge above obscurity.   Sure, their latest is an album of covers, so it does help that you’d know the songs even if you hadn’t listened to it, but I have to say Duritz and crew put on a hell’va show.  A show they should be proud of 20 years into their career.  I am bummed I missed all the openers, but when they all came back out for a collaborative “Hangingaround”, it put a cap on an excellent evening on the Rocks.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse 08.05.12
Love And Only Love
Born In Ontario
Walk Like A Giant
The Needle And The Damage Done
Twisted Road
For the Love of Man
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
Fuckin’ Up
Psychedelic Pill
Mr. Soul
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Over And Over

Alabama Shakes 08.05.12
Goin’ To The Party
Hold On
Hang Loose
Always Alright
I Found You
On Your Way
Boys and Girls
Be Mine
I Ain’t The Same
You Ain’t Alone
Heavy Chevy

My Morning Jacket 08.03.12
Rollin’ Back
The Way That He Sings
Heartbreakin Man
The Dark
Outta My System
Holdin On To Black Metal
First Light
War Begun
I Will Sing You Songs
Wonderful (The Way I Feel)
Rocket Man
Tonight I Want to Celebrate
Wordless Chorus
Evil Urges
Master Plan
What A Wonderful Man
Easy Morning Rebel
It’s About Twilight Now
Never Tear Us Apart

Butch Cassidy
Victory Dance
Off The Record
Rock the Casbah

Band of Horses 08.03.12
Long Vows
unknown new song (Motor?)
Marry Song
Infinite Arms
No One’s Gonna Love You
The First Song
The Great Salt Lake
Is There a Ghost
Weed Party
The Funeral

Counting Crows. 08.02.12
Round Here
Untitled (Love Song)
I Wish I Was A Girl
Hard Candy
Meet on the Ledge
Friend of the Devil
Recovering the Satellites
You Can’t Count on Me
Mr. Jones
Like Teenage Gravity
Look at Miss Ohio
A Long December
Return of the Grievous Angel
Rain King

Ballad of El Goodo
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere


Weekend on the Rocks

Weekend on the Rocks

  7 comments for “A Weekend on The Rocks: Neil Young, Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, Trombone Shorty and Counting Crows

  1. Stone Hendge
    August 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    (Meant to be a reply to Bruce below) I have to agree. I’ve been to many concerts in my 46 years and could be one of the most unexpected and amazing encores I’ve witnessed. “At night when the sky is clear and the moon is shining down ….” I can’t decide if Neil was singing about his love of his fans or the band, so I’ll assume both!

  2. @D_Falt
    August 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    Great reviews. And here I thought I was the only idiot that hit all three bands. But I saw Young twice. Thanks for your reviews. I agree with every single one… that Trombone Shorty is going to go places.

  3. Lauri
    August 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    interesting that you call Neil Young’s encore illplanned, tho it may have been from your prespective, for me it was my life changing musical moment to have Neil Young playing to me and my friend and then to lock eyes while he continued to play was musical magic!

    • August 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      not being familiar with the song, I just found it a bit of a letdown after the strong ending to the main set. it seems I was alone in feeling this way though. thanks for the comment! incredible show!

  4. Bruce
    August 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    “Over and Over”, the encore that Crazy Horse played, is a rarely played jem. This was a highlight of the show and a longtime favorite for many in the crowd.

    Bruce in PA

    • August 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      that makes sense Bruce. thanks for the insight. not being a big follower of his work, I didn’t recognize the song.

    • dfo319
      August 9, 2012 at 10:04 am

      Great review of the NY & CH show, thanks much! A little additional perspective on the encore – Neil and the Horse have only played Red Rocks 2x before (1987 and 2003). The 2003 concert was predominantly the Greendale show. By most accounts, this was only the 3rd time that they played Over and Over live, with the other 2 coming in 1990. So it was an especially rare song to see for Rusties. BTW, Needle and the Damage Done was written about Danny Whitten, who was the original 2nd guitar in NY & CH back in ~1969-70 and died of an overdose in 1972.

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