While most popular music figures of his generation are content to merely revisit (and in vain try to revive) past glories, NEIL YOUNG is constantly expanding his repertoire, already one of the most diverse and challenging in rock history. His body of work -- spanning the better part of four decades -- encompasses folk, rock, pop and country, even the blues, metal and techno. Though at times highly erratic, Young nevertheless has had enough moments of brilliance to earn him a lofty seat in the rock 'n' roll pantheon. He plays the Gorge on Saturday.
Toronto born and bred, Young's first musical inklings were encouraged by his parents. His mother, in particular, through aggressive booking, helped his first band, The Squires, gain a fair amount of regional notoriety. In 1965, Young met Steven Stills and the two formed the seminal and highly influential folk rock group, Buffalo Springfield. Here, the world got its first taste of Young's distinctive guitar sound, raw vocals and dark lyrical vision on such standout tunes as "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow."
In 1969, Young began his sojourn as a solo performer, releasing one self-titled album (containing his signature alienation piece, "The Loner") before beginning a musical collaboration with an ex-bar band called Crazy Horse. The albums that followed (including Everyone Knows This is Nowhere, After the Goldrush and Harvest) would prove to be some of the most creative and commercially successful of his career while nurturing his persona as a rock outlaw with a wide mystical streak. The albums produced a string of hits ("Down by the River," "Cowgirl in the Sand," "Cinnamon Girl," "Heart of Gold," "Old Man"), songs which stand to this day as some of his most memorable.
On 1975's Tonight's the Night, Young officially brought the flower power era to a close with a chilling concept album dealing with the harsh realities of the '60s counterculture movement (inspired by the drug-related death of a close friend) and the unrealities of fame. It was Young at his most focused and deeply personal.
Since Tonight's the Night, Young's career has been characterized by enough stylistic twists and turns and creative highs and lows to test the fortitude of even the most die-hard fan. Rust Never Sleeps was terrific, but his foray into electronic music on the synth-heavy Trans seemed like a joke (and not a very funny one at that). The rockabilly album that followed it was equally baffling.
As the '80s drew to a close, Young was again in good form. And as the alternative rock movement of the early '90s began to flower, so once more did the aging rocker. His discography from this period is as diverse (and inconsistent) as ever. He did a blues record with a 10-piece horn section (This Note's for You), a thinly veiled eulogy for Kurt Cobain (Sleeps With Angels), a collaboration with Pearl Jam (Mirror Ball) and a soundtrack for a Jim Jarmusch film (Dead Man).
Silver and Gold is his latest, his first studio effort in four years. It is a quiet, almost tender set of songs full of sweet reminiscences and unexpected sentimentality. In keeping with that tone, Young is bringing the musicians who helped craft the sound of the new album with him on this summer's tour. Included in the supporting lineup are Ben Keith (steel guitar), Jim Keltner (drums), Donald "Duck" Dunn (bass) and Spooner Oldham (keyboards).
Fans who were hoping to hear Young rock hard and angry again were disappointed with Silver and Gold. But as those who have weathered the performer's many mood swings know, Young is nothing if not unpredictable. If this isn't the Neil Young you were expecting, just wait for the next album.
It's a fact that throughout his long career, Young has experienced nearly as many artistic failures as successes. But it's no mystery why some of the most important bands of the last two decades -- Sonic Youth, Pearl Jam and Nirvana among them -- cite Young as a major influence on their music. His guitar technique, songwriting ability and above all, his fierce independence have made him a true original.
Neil Young performs with The Pretenders at the Gorge on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 pm. Tickets: $44-$96. Call: (509) 735-0500.
& & Goodbye to Grob & & & &
Spokane music scene denizens were hit with some bad news over the Labor Day weekend. Terry Grob, until recently one of the city's biggest promoters of edgy, original rock, was found dead last week in Portland, apparently of a massive seizure. Grob was a major player in the local alt-rock scene for most of the last decade, running an all-ages venue and setting up countless shows at Ichabod's North, the Big Dipper and other area clubs. Though often at odds with club owners, band members and local police, Grob was steadfastly committed to the local underground music scene and did much to raise the profile of its member bands. After moving to Portland last year, Grob maintained close ties with friends and colleagues in Spokane, many of whom it seems received an email from him the night before he died. Stay tuned for news of a possible memorial in the coming weeks.
& & Eternal Life & & & &
Many go down to the river, but most don't dive in. JEFF BUCKLEY explored music's deepest undercurrents and was swept away by these very same forces. With only a live EP and one full studio album under his belt, Buckley, at age 30, had already inspired legions of fans and musicians when the Mississippi River claimed him in 1997. His mother, Mary Guibert, is currently traveling the United States and Europe in remembrance of his music and will be at the South Hill Hastings store on Tuesday. She will answer questions and will present an unreleased documentary about the life and talent of this gifted musician.
The son of late folk singer Tim Buckley, Jeff grew up in southern California on a diet of Zeppelin-esque rock, jazz, torch songs and blues with his mother, a classically trained pianist. Disillusioned with the L.A. music scene, Jeff moved on to more experimental horizons in New York. There, he honed his skills as a multi-dimensional singer and guitarist, routinely performing songs by Bob Dylan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Judy Garland, the Smiths and Alex Chilton. Noted avant-garde musician John Zorn tapped him for performances, as did Patti Smith, Shudder to Think and Chris Dowd of Fishbone.
Buckley also continued writing and playing his own diverse material, eventually landing a record deal with Columbia/Sony. Live at Sine-e, an EP released in 1993, features two of his original compositions and cover tunes by Van Morrison and Edith Piaf. His first and only studio album, Grace, was released to critical acclaim in 1994, earning him the prestigious Grand Prix International Du Disque in France. On Grace, Buckley showcased his own compositions ranging from the Middle-Eastern tinged "Last Goodbye" and the haunting "Dream Brother," to the angry, politically-charged "Eternal Life." Buckley's fragile rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" became a concert favorite.
The recordings for his next album were never completed and were issued posthumously as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk, which underlined his growth as an artist. The collection of live and unreleased performances, Mystery White Boy, released this year on both audio and video formats, testify to Buckley's gifts as a fearless and passionate performer.
The Jeff Buckley event is at the South Hill Hastings, 2805 E. 29th, Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6 pm. Call: 535-4029.