@2003 Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Rock ‘n’ roll history was made Sunday night as Neil Young unveiled a new production – a concept album – complete with full-sized stage sets, live actors and video screens to propel the story.
The concept album is called Greendale and it won’t be released until the end of the summer. Young apparently couldn’t wait to show it off, so the 11,000 fans at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre who paid as much as $85 to see the first show of Young’s summer tour got an off-off-off Broadway debut.
Greendale, just under two hours in length, tells the story of a small town “right here in the U.S.A.,” Young said in one of numerous plot-exposition monologues peppering the show. “It’s a little town of 20,000 people on the coast.”
Among those: Earl Green, a.k.a. Grandpa, his wife, Edith, and their children, Jed and Sun. The family’s small clapboard house, complete with white picket fence, took up all of stage left.
As Young and his longtime band Crazy Horse performed each song, actors portraying the Green family appeared in front of the house and acted out the lyrics. The musicians ignored the drama unfolding around them.
Since no one in the audience had ever heard any of the songs, there was nothing to do but sit back and try to follow the thread, such as it was.
Jed, who looks like he’s about 30 years old, murders Carmichael, the local policeman, and is thrown in Greendale County Jail. The devil, it seems, lives at the jail (he wears a red jacket and a white Panama hat, and dances like Sammy Davis Jr.).
Grandpa is an artist who’s been creating psychedelic paintings since the ’60s. The first work he sells, however, is a portrait of a man in a red jacket and a white Panama hat.
Sun Green, meanwhile, becomes an arch environmentalist and hooks up with a Stetson-sporting pot smuggler named Earth Brown.
Hounded by the media to talk about his son’s crime, Grandpa has a heart attack and dies on camera. The ever-invasive TV crews stick a microphone in his face to record his dying words.
If that all seems hard to follow on paper, you shoulda been there.
Young, who has always delighted in confounding his fans, thanked the audience from the stage, and said that being unpredictable “is what keeps me going.”
The recurring themes in Greendale, including environmental awareness, old-fashioned American values and disgust with the media, are longtime Young trademarks.
Yet the show’s concept was all but lost in the audience’s palpable disappointment. Shouts for “Southern Man” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” punctuated the gaps between songs.
Still, Greendale persevered.
The unfamiliar music – beautifully-executed though it was, and played with trademark precision – left many people scratching their heads.
For the final Greendale number there were more than 50 people on the stage, including Young, Crazy Horse, actors, dancers and various people who seemed to have come out of nowhere.
Young seemed to understand that his rock ‘n’ roll Les Miserables might be a bit much for fans to grasp. When Greendale comes out on CD in August or September, it will be accompanied by a DVD, shot by Young on 8mm, telling the same story fans will be seeing onstage all summer.
By then, the mercurial artist will doubtless have moved on to something else, and this odd, uninviting stage show will be no more than a footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history books.