Neil Young is one of those musicians whom people either love or hate, for pretty much the same reasons. (At least they're never neutral about him!)
His voice is a baleful wail that goes well with his pining, often surrealistically wrought Americana rock songs about need and want, missteps and new directions. And, oh, does he like to shift gears as a guitar player, between a campfire-intimate, rustic-acoustic folk style and a ragged, howling at the winds, cranking and stomping electric approach that ebbs and flows like a stormy sea.
If all that sounds good to you, may I draw your attention to "Neil Young Trunk Show: Scenes from a Concert," the latest in a long line of film portraits of the artist which he's again co-produced as one Bernard Shakey.
Like 2006's "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," this one's a concert piece directed by Jonathan Demme, a talent who's also shown his affinity for music in films like the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense" and two featuring the tunes of Robyn Hitchcock, "Storefront Hitchcock" and "Rachel Getting Married."
"Heart of Gold" was a straightforward documentary of a sedate, respectful, trad-country Young concert at Nashville, Tenn.'s Ryman Auditorium, made shortly after the artist's comeback from a life-threatening cerebral aneurysm and surgery, when he was still on shaky ground.
Captured at our Tower Theater, in Upper Darby, on two nights in December 2007, "Trunk Show" is a more stimulating, spontaneous mash-up of hot and cool, hits and obscurities. And it's made even more edgy by Demme's decision to reconfigure the set list for maximum contrast. One minute Young's sipping quietly from the cup of life with "Harvest," the next basking with the band in the white light/white heat of "Cinnamon Girl."
Pauses between songs are often nonexistent (more concert films should be like that). Brief backstage vignettes (Neil needs nail surgery!) and cutaways to miming theatrical extras ("The Painter" and "The Sultan") add a bit of color. You'll also get brief glimpses of Young's wife, Pegi (who sings backup), and two severely handicapped sons, whom they wouldn't dream of leaving home.
Centerpiece of the show is a 21-minute jamming journey into the heart of darkness with "No Hidden Path," which Demme makes no effort to spice up with audience reaction shots, or even much visual give and take between Young and his colleagues. Mostly the cameras just focus on the man himself, on the furrowed brow and craggy creases of his weathered face, the swaying to-and-fro body language that suggests that he's in the moment, coaxing out each note.