'Neil Young Trunk Show': At 64, he's even better
"Neil Young Trunk Show," Jonathan Demme's follow-up to "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," demonstrates that at 64 years old, ol' Shakey's never been sturdier.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Neil Young Trunk Show," a music documentary directed by Jonathan Demme. 83 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity; see Page 15.
"It's not like it used to be. That's a good thing," Neil Young says early on in the concert film "Neil Young Trunk Show." He's right on both counts: Whatever he used to be, he's even better now.
Young is an artistic monolith of unassailable integrity, worthy of the lionizing he gets in Jonathan Demme's follow-up to "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" (2006). "Trunk Show" demonstrates that at 64 years old, ol' Shakey's never been sturdier.
Young's sound bite is one of very few nonmusical moments in the film, spoken to the camera backstage at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa. His two 2007 concerts there comprise the meat of "Trunk Show." At 83 minutes, it's about as long as a typical concert, though some performances from the tour — including Seattle's WaMu Amphitheater show — were upward of two hours. Demme puts the viewer onstage with Young and gets out of the way; Young, in turn, radiates through his music, split between solo acoustic and full-band rocking.
On film as in concert, the intensely quiet solo material overwhelms the fury of the full-band sequences. Dressed in paint-spattered pants and button-down shirt, Young sits alone onstage encircled by guitars and banjos, flanked by a baby grand piano. He picks among them like a painter choosing the proper brush. "Harvest" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" are somber and beautiful, but "Ambulance Blues" is the highlight of the film.
I guess I'll call it sickness gone
It's hard to say the meaning of this song
An ambulance can only go so fast
It's easy to get buried in the past
When you try to make a good thing last
Lines like that register equally Young's anger and resolve; the film's reverent, intimate presentation mirrors Young's plain-spoken gravitas. Demme lets the camera linger, blowing up Young's face and hands into larger-than-life resolution. The man, and indeed the film itself, are completely given to the song.
For the band segments, the film's focus broadens and intensity wanes, even if the volume is higher. Such is the way of Neil Young.
Jonathan Zwickel: email@example.com
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