Neil Young, Patron Saint of Individuality

Neil Young, Patron Saint of Individuality

I'm sitting in a second-story pool hall looking down at Austin Street on a drizzly evening in Forest Hills, Queens. I was in the market for a place to grab a couple of reasonably priced beers before entering the nearby stadium, but I wanted to avoid the asses-to-elbows crush of a pre-game bar—the type of place where employees tell neighborhood regulars, "Well, Neil Young's playing tomorrow, so don't even bother"—just as much as I wanted to avoid the sting of a $14 12-ounce Stella. This place's big windows, with only one guy seated behind them, caught my eye.

Just a month or two ago, I told a friend that I'd made peace with never seeing Neil Young live. The last time he came to a venue near me, I balked at the $200-plus ticket prices and resolved that it would take either a miracle or a Robert Smith-style act of price tag justice from Neil for me to ever see him.

My ticket, impulsively purchased minutes after I saw the stellar setlist from the opening date of Neil Young's first full tour with Crazy Horse in a decade, ended up being (not so considerably) less than $200-plus. But still, imagine an out-of-body experience where I'm looking down at myself watching the show with a Stella in my hand: This dumbass. He thought he could resist the pull of a bucket-list concert and a beer on the grounds of frugality.

Back in the pool hall, I'm observing a 40-something man on the street below. He's wearing a neon orange speckled jacket and a decently color-coordinated Metric tee underneath it. He's puffing a vape, periodically checking his phone, and unhurriedly pacing back and forth. I guess that he's waiting to meet his buddy at a bar before the show. Sure enough–one last look at the phone and he about-faces, picks up his pace, and disappears around a corner.

I'm wearing a top that's also neon orange (or at least neon orange adjacent) speckled. It's a longsleeve that used to be black, but when I purchased it from an Instagram account called Coolshirts42069, it had been tie-dyed with what I assume was bleach, splattering it with that burnt color that dark hair turns when an amateur attempts to dye it blonde. It's Blood Incantation merch, and along with the death metal band's comically illegible logo, it's got ringed planets, alien spires, and the words "INNER PATHS TO OUTER SPACE" emblazoned on it.

Befitting that message and perhaps the show I'm about to see, I'm reading a new zine called DRUG MUSIC at the bar. It compiles a handful of personal essays, poems, lists, and other creative compositions submitted by music writers on the subjects of music and drugs, curated and edited by the always-great Arielle Gordon. Some are scary, some are fun, others fluctuate between the two.

45 minutes later, after snaking my way into the stadium, I'm sitting between two 60-70-year-old men on Forest Hills' metal bleachers. Neil and the boys have just embarked on the guitarmageddon voyage that is "Cortez The Killer," and I'm fixated on the joint in my pocket. It's probably the first one I've rolled in a year, and while the rolling skills I honed in college are hearteningly intact, the tolerance is not. I'm more worried about the beer-less, seemingly sober dudes flanking me. There are a few other millennials lighting up around me, but I'm by myself—would it be rude?

Then "Down By The River" starts and the familiarity of the chicken scratch riff I've heard a hundred times washes over me like anti-anxiety medication. I "covertly" spark up, take two pulls, then put the joint back in the plastic tube I brought to keep it dry and structurally intact. Perfect. The strain was the weakest they had at the dispensary, and even still, this was the correct dose. Fine, roast me:

I'm now more perceptive of minutia: the sour chord Neil hits amid one of the "Down By The River" choruses, the way his guitar tone during "Scattered (Let's Think About Livin'" is jagged but comforting like a mother cat or dog picking up its offspring by the napes of their necks, the way—Oh shit, is this "Roll Another Number (For The Road)"? It totally fuckin' is! WOO!!

Yes, Neil playing the lone upbeat, stone-y track on the downcast, stone-y Tonight's The Night was certainly a thrill, but I am exaggerating my tone a bit here. I'm nowhere near tunnel-vision reverie. I'm perceptive enough to clock a never-ending, almost lackadaisical "Love and Only Love" as the perfect time for a bathroom break, but rapt enough to tear up during a particularly passionate "Powderfinger" solo. I'm not a fraction as wasted as the old guys behind me talking about fuck-all throughout the show (the only snippet I remember is one of them remarking how "crazy" it is that certain siblings look nothing alike—real pressing stuff) but I'm buzzed enough for the opening crack of "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" to send shockwaves through my body and get me thinking about Kurt Cobain.

During the half of the show that isn't made up of my all-time favorites, I'm more locked in on Neil's guitar playing than I am on the actual songs. He'd be the first to tell you that he's nowhere near the most technically gifted shredder, but the reason he continues to be held in such high esteem by younger generations is the rawness of his playing. He came up during a time that prized proficiency—the ornate late '60s and early '70s were paving the way for "remember when people could actually play real instruments" opinions in real-time—and via Stephen Stills, Danny Whitten, Ben Keith, Nils Lofgren, and many others, he had connections to plenty of musicians who fit that bill.

I was surprised that Neil took nearly all of the solos for himself, but with new guitarist Micah Nelson joining Crazy Horse for this tour, I guess it made sense. A decade ago, I gained a new appreciation for "Down By The River" when a friend pointed out how its dueling solos highlighted Neil and Danny Whitten's wildly contrasting styles, but there was none of that gritty-vs.-pretty juxtaposition at this show. The alternative was a new guitarist that I'd never heard of attempting to fill some huge shoes, so I appreciated what was given to me.

Neil's solos are always an adventure, but even more so live. If the non-NBA fans reading this will forgive the metaphor, Neil's the Jalen Brunson of guitar solos. When he launches into it, you get a nagging "Is this dogshit?" sensation, but unwieldy as he may be, whether he's driving into the paint or pulling up for a mid-range jumper, he almost always defies the odds and sinks the bucket. He's a folk hero, and not just when Crazy Horse dips backstage to let him rock a few solo acoustic numbers.

I walked the 3.3 miles from my apartment to Forest Hills in the light rain. I always enjoy walking and usually don't mind mild precipitation, but to my surprise these conditions yielded me ecstatic results, 100% sober save for the two glasses of cold brew sloshing around my stomach. A sludge metal band's upcoming album that I'm in the process of reviewing was in my headphones; I was like a pig in shit.

I love my friends. I love going to shows with them. I love going to shows and bonding with random people that I'll never see again. As an adult though, I've realized that I also value my ability to have fun alone. On this excursion, I reveled in that. I walked for miles along Queens Boulevard, one of the few streets in New York City that seems openly hostile to pedestrians. I rocked a loud-ass death metal shirt rather than the classic rock tees in my drawer that might have sparked interactions with excitable boomers. I went to a quiet bar off the beaten path. Before the show, my seatmates conversed with the people they came with and I didn't butt into their conversations. I've opted for the polar opposites of all the above many times, so take this as anything but a value judgement, but I was in the mood for a solitary day, and it felt good.

Despite the relative lack of concertgoers at the pool hall before the show, whoever was in charge had clearly gone on a streaming service and selected "Neil Young Radio," or whatever option plays his hits alongside "related" artists. I already knew that this format wasn't conducive to his music—maybe that's why he kept his discography off of Spotify for so long—but the results were hilarious. Stylistically, Neil's most popular music fits neatly alongside plenty of his contemporaries. Hearing "My My, Hey Hey" sandwiched between Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" and The Eagles' "Hotel California" wasn't that jarring. Ditto for "Harvest" into Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." But "Out on the Weekend" into Toto's "Africa"? Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" just a few tracks after "Southern Man"???

For better or worse, Neil has drifted further and further away from classic rock norms. He came up during an era of leftist politics intertwining with rock music, but unlike say, Eric Clapton or Ted Nugent, he's never seemed to stray from the path. In the early '90s, he openly courted a reputation as an elder statesman, his Pearl Jam connection sticking him with the entirely deserved "Godfather of Grunge" moniker, his enthusiasm for tour openers Sonic Youth once leaving him at odds with his road crew. Sure, he's crotchety and not all of his late-period albums are worthwhile, but he's made a lasting career off of an attitude that can only be described as Aggressively Neil Young.

When the show ended promptly at 10pm (thanks to the neighborhood curfew), I quickly realized that my initial plan of getting home via the subway was more trouble than it was worth. I couldn't take one more boomer bitching about the glacially paced lines to get out of the stadium, so I put on my headphones and cued up the new Chief Keef album. I was, again, ecstatic. I moved like a sheep with the crowd but allowed myself to periodically bust a dance move, blissfully unconcerned with anyone else's thoughts. I got out of the venue, decided to walk home, and once I was back on Queens Boulevard, pulled out the remnants of my joint and hit it a few more times.

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #29

DJIIN - "Blind"

Location: Rennes, France // Genre: heavy, versatile-as-fuck prog-sludge // RIYL: definitely NOT the bands listed as similar in the PR email: Kadaver, Blue Pills, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats // From: "Mirrors," out now

fantasy of a broken heart - "AFV"

Location: Brooklyn // Genre: jangly indie rock // RIYL: a new Pains of Being Pure at Heart album produced by Alex G with guest vocals from someone who sounds like Ariel Pink but isn't as awful of a person // From: "Feats of Engineering," out 8/1

Maddy Davis - "RAGE"

Location: LA-via-New Jersey // Genre: pop-rock with that classic '90s quiet-loud dynamic // RIYL: Olivia Rodrigo if she started off making music in her bedroom // From: "RAGE" EP, date unannounced

Peggy Gou - "Lobster Telephone"

Location: South Korea // Genre: breezy dance-pop // RIYL: '90s Euro house // From: "I Hear You," out 6/7

Wishy - "Love On the Outside"

Location: Indianapolis // Genre: anthemic, pop-literate alt rock // RIYL: '90s minivan rock, the Wishy track I posted last year // From: "Triple Seven," out 8/16

Track of the Week

This Is Lorelei - "Where's Your Love Now"

Location: Brooklyn // Genre: internet-age baroque pop // RIYL: a damaged version of the type of '00s indie that used string sections // From: "Box For Buddy, Box For Star," out 6/14

Last year, a Brooklyn band called Water From Your Eyes put out an album that got a ton of hype. I played it once and made it three or four songs in before I decided that it wasn't for me. It was glitchy post-punk that frankly struck me as annoying.

Consider me stunned, then, by the upcoming album from This Is Lorelei, the solo project of Water From Your Eyes' Nate Amos.

I posted a previous single in March, and despite not naming it "track of the week" then, it's now among my most-listened songs this year. I'm not sure yet if "Where's Your Love Now" is better than "Dancing in the Club," but it's simultaneously very different and just as charming.

The band fantasy of a broken heart, whose recent single you'll see above, is also a Water From Your Eyes side project. When's the last time you liked multiple side projects more than the actual band itself?

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson