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You may regard Neil Young as 75 percent relentless preacher, 25 percent creaky balladeer, and 100 percent annoying old fart whose performances don’t touch the entertainment value of Jimmy Fallon–as–Young’s interpretation of this year’s one-week wonder, “Pants on the Ground.” Watch Jonathan Demme’s capture of two shows that took place at Pennsylvania’s Tower Theatre, however, and you’ll likely come away with a different impression: Neil Young can still rock.
The Rachel Getting Married director, who also filmed Young for 2006’s Heart of Gold, spent more time with the singer during 2007’s Chrome Dreams II tour. But Demme keeps the behind-the-scenes footage to a minimum, instead splicing the best of both concerts together for a mostly-music 82 minutes. The film starts in grainy Super 8 as “Sad Movies” plays over clips from the shows. Then when it’s time to train the camera on Young and his band (Ben Keith, Ralph Molina, Rick Rosas, Anthony “Sweet Pea” Crawford, and wife Pegi Young) onstage, Demme goes high-def: You can see every crag in Young’s face, his thinning hair blowin’ in his self-generated head-bobbing wind. (Not to mention his nose hairs, given Demme’s preference for upward shots.)
There’s a bit of fancy filmmaking at the beginning, with Young superimposed and then multiplied over a background scan of the set. But soon the filigree is ditched—and not only is nothing lost, the momentum of the concert redoubles. Young admits backstage that he’s happy about his latest performances, saying that although back in the day he’d “get into it and I’d be rockin’ with the [Crazy] Horse,” he achieves more variety with his current lineup. With the exception of a few slower numbers (“Ambulance Blues,” “Mexico”), though, Young still rocks with the Trunk Show, which is dominated by the 64-year-old’s most combustive singles such as “Spirit Road” and “Dirty Old Man.”
The highlight of the film by far is “No Hidden Path.” For 21 minutes (!), Young and his crack band manipulate this epic jam as most in the audience infuriatingly stand—or, worse, sit—still. Eventually Young’s wailing on his trusted Gibson does wake them up, and he earns every cheer after often looking as if he were in pain.
“No Hidden Path” is especially transcendent, but Trunk Show as a whole will leave any music lover giddy. It earns the highest compliment a concert film can get: You forget you’re watching a movie and instead feel like you’ve got the best seat in the house.