The Battle With The Bottle


9 mars 2008, 11h25m

"I love to get hammered on a Friday night, sometimes I can't wait so Monday's alright" Neil Young, Dirty Old Man.

Sat 8 Mar – Neil Young

It would be nice to be writing an excited review of a great Neil Young show (which it was) but the curse of the allocated seat struck and we were stuck next to some of the most obnoxious people I’d ever encountered at a gig. So let’s get the moan over with first.

We’d spotted (no, the whole upper tier had spotted) a guy in the bar before the show shouting crap at the top of his voice and maybe we’d all thought, charitably, “perhaps he’s forgotten his medication.” But no, he was just a drunken jerk and, despite the “no drink in the auditorium” signs, the friendly Hammersmith staff actually helped him find his seat, pint in hand, directly in front of us – a good 15 minutes into Neil’s acoustic set – where he proceeded to engage the people either side of him in attempts at conversation (sample: “Is that Neil Young on stage. I love him”), shout “encouragement” to Neil, before his grand climax of vomiting on the woman seated in front of him (I hope the Apollo have offered her free tickets to all the remaining shows). This led to a spat all the way through the last number of NY’s acoustic set between the stewards and the drunk. Thankfully one of the more sound HA stewards talked him out of the auditorium between sets.

As if this bloke wasn’t sufficient distraction, we also had two numb-nuts sitting in the aisle beside us who were either too drunk to find their proper seats or who had got in on duplicate tickets. They spent their time alternately trying to persuade some poor guy in front of us out of his seat (not the other drunk, sadly) or just talking crap between themselves. Again, all this through the acoustic set.

Maybe we were just unlucky. Or maybe some people out there need to ask themselves some difficult questions about why they bother going to gigs in the first place (aren’t there cheaper ways to get drunk and make enemies?).

Anyway, the music…..

When we could focus on the acoustic set, we got some real treats. A lovely Heart of Gold, a very rare outing for Flying On The Ground Is Wrong, a version of Mellow My Mind on the banjo that beat the album version hands down and a very confident Ambulance Blues. Laid out around him, NY had a large selection of his guitars and a couple of pianos to choose from and he genuinely looked like he was picking songs and instruments on a whim, wandering the stage lost in thought between numbers. His voice and playing were great.

The real blast for me though was the electric set with the band that followed. Not only had the jerks left the auditorium by now but this was a set that would have cut through anything anyway. Kicking off with a riff-heavy Mr. Soul, NY played like a demon for an hour, with a good chugging Spirit Road, a long discursive Down By The River and, best of all, a version of Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) that reminded me why the fan I’d seen earlier wearing a Sonic Youth t-shirt wasn’t out of place after all.

If you’re catching Neil later in the tour, you’re in for a treat. Just be careful where you sit.


  • sometimesalmost

    hooray for the review! i've been looking forward to it... when i saw Springsteen a few years ago, i had a drunken jerk behind me who kept spilling beer down my back, so i feel your angst about your concert neighbors.

    9 mars 2008, 12h38m
  • Thelonious9

    Thanks for stopping by. I was once hit on the back of the neck by a piece of melon rind whilst watching Beck at The Reading Festival. That explains a lot you might say..... Well, that one was so absurd I could hardly complain about it. Am I just some kind of kill-joy musical anorak* or is it unreasonable to actually expect to stay sober enough at a gig not to be ejected or pass out? When I fancy a drink, I go to the pub where the beers are cheaper and there's no entrance fee. *rhetorical question and then some

    9 mars 2008, 15h58m
  • CasperCCC

    Hmmm... I enjoyed the gig. But my complaint would be the opposite to yours. Whoever heard of banning booze at a gig? You don't have to get drunk, but it's nice to have a pint when you're watching a band. And I've never been at a gig where the atmosphere was more sterile. It was like a night at the opera. A handful of people were up and dancing at the back, but mostly we got nothing other than polite applause. Felt far too much to me like people were there to venerate Neil Young, not to see him play. Especially during the electric set – visceral proto-punk like Hey, Hey, My, My just doesn’t suit polite appreciation. If I was up on stage, I’d be gutted to be putting my heart and soul into the music and to look out on a crowd that may as well have been listening to a lecture on developments in the corporate lending market. When I fancy getting drunk, I go to the pub. But if I want to sit quietly and listen to music, I put on a CD or a live DVD. Sounds like your vomiting drunk went way too far in the wrong direction, but from where I was sitting, I was totally frustrated by the painfully polite and bloodless audience. With you on how good the music was, though, especially the electric set. Hey, Hey, My, My was just epic.

    11 mars 2008, 14h44m
  • Thelonious9

    I pretty much agree with you, Casper. Something about the show or the venue inspired either drunkenness or sobriety when what's needed is something in between. The best gigs for me are the ones where everyone's relaxed, nothing's too hyped up, and the excitement comes from the band and the audience being in tune with each other. Seems you don't get that in a venue as big as the Apollo with an act who only plays here every six years. Not Neil's fault - as you say, he gave it everything - but he doesn't need his audience treating him like a museum piece. And you're right, a pint or two usually discourages that.

    14 mars 2008, 9h29m
  • behindthestars

    I agree with Casper too! The polite clapping got to me a bit. Particularly in the electric set. I couldn't just clap to something that bound everything so intensely, and I know I let go a bit (although not in the annoying sense, I hope)! The people in the 4th row (where I sat last night - incidentally, I also went to the opening Wednesday and Sunday 9th show) were even willing to sit throughout an encore of Cinnamon Girl. Right. I didn't let that happen...! And once they were up, they were really getting into it ... where's the initiative and energy?

    15 mars 2008, 19h49m
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