Neil young and Crazy Horse with Lucinda Williams at the Air Canada Centre, June 23. Tickets: $49.50-$95. Attendance: 18,000. Rating: NNN
after moaning through three downer tunes to nothing more than a polite smattering of applause, Lucinda Williams smiled. "That's the best response I've had all tour!" Damn. It makes you wonder what sort of indifference or hostility she's been facing from restless Neil Young fans on the other dates. As the house lights dimmed for the headliner, a screen lowered over the Air Canada Centre stage on which a Ponderosa-style map labelled Greendale appeared, leaving no doubt that Young's performance would be centred around his concept album of the same name - complete with flimsy house and county jail set-ups and a cast of actors and dancers to play out the lyrics of Young's songs as he sang them.
It was an oddly Guffmanesque musical version of Mayberry RFD, with Young using the story of the regular folks from a quaint little town to convey a heavy-handed message about the evils of mass media and galvanize support for preserving the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge.
One projection involved an image of a Clearchannel billboard reading "Support Our War" that seemed to be a jab, however oblique, at the ever-expanding media empire that put on the show. While Neil may still not be singing for beer companies, he knows who signs his cheques.
Not only was the set construction embarrassingly cheesy, but the amateur actors' corny lip-synching and the high-school-level choreography were all similarly kooky. Young's spoken segues - similar in style to Lee Hazlewood's Trouble Is A Lonesome Town monologues - were long-winded and unfocused, causing fidgety fans to shout stuff like "Shut up and get on with it!"
There were a handful of solid new tunes, but they may be too thematically connected to the Greendale concept to stand alone. It was hard not to think "Gap ad" during the big finale, which had the entire cast prancing around in camouflage gear chanting, "We've got to save Mother Earth!" Very hokey, yes, but it had most of the crowd on their feet pumping their fists and shouting along.
It should be interesting to see how it evolves when Young returns to the Air Canada Centre September 4.