After leaving the Social Media Rock Star summit, I stopped by the Staples Center to see what watching rehearsals would be like. I caught about 20 minutes of Taylor Swift rehearsing, and it was really really interesting. Back to the hotel to change into my first dress of the trip, I then caught a cab to the convention center for a night of celebrating Neil Young.
MusiCares is an organization that helps musicians in times of need. While the annual event honors Neil Young, it’s main purpose is a fundraiser for the charity.
The cab pulls up the driveway behind 3 limousines dropping people off at the red carpet. I tell him, no- stop and let me out before the carpet, and he’s like, why not just go to the carpet? Uh, duh, because I’m not famous, dude! So I get out and gingerly walk around the tented carpet like stepping on it will set off an alarm, and get to the front near the entrance. That’s when I hear the papparazzi screaming “Neil! Look HERE! WAIT I didn’t get it…HERE PLLLEEEAAASSSEEE!!!” and realize that Neil and Pegi must have been in one of the limos right in front of me. They stop to do an interview in front of me, so I snap a quick pic.
Then I walked inside and rode up the escalator, and looked up and realized I was behind Tony Bennett! Cue ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’. My Meema would have been excited to hear that story.
Everyone was gathered in a room were a massive silent auction was taking place. This was the kind of event where I absolutely had no business being there- my entire outfit cost as much as one dude’s sock, probably. I walked around and admired all of the art for sale- starting to look at the price sheets and realizing it was pointless. My favorite was this series of framed Jimmy Page pics:
As I walked around, I kept getting the soon to be very familiar 5 second glance: second 1- turn, second 2-focus, second 3- register, second 4- reject, second 5- disengage disappointingly. I’m not famous, I don’t belong! Not that I wasn’t doing the same- I didn’t notice anyone famous but Mr. Bennett in the auction, and perhaps a few of the Wilco guys.
An announcement came on letting people know to start going into the banquet room, where dinner would be served and the concert would begin. So, I had a volunteer pass for this show, and knew I wouldn’t have a seat at a table- I believe the dinner was $1500 for the charity. But where was I supposed to go? I wandered around asking random people before finally just wandering into the room and figuring out that the volunteers were allowed to line the back wall of the room. In the meantime I passed Jason Schwartzman, I think, who maybe came up to my hip, and Rick Rosas.
I get settled and observe the dynamic of the formal tables being served food that everyone is picking at, preferring to focus on their drinks and expensive clothes. A live auction soon begins- the first item is to sing backup vocals on one track on Brian Wilson’s album, recorded in the famous Beach Boy studio. Elton John wins, at $20K. I’m not sure who came out ahead on that purchase.
It time for the show to begin, as desserts are being returned uneaten to the kitchen. Jack Black ,the host for the evening, strolls out onstage. I kind of have mixed feelings about the more famous half of Tenacious D in general, but in a setting like this that’s all formal and stuff, he’s great. You can tell he goes off the prompter a lot. After opening with a few words about Neil Young that revolved around the lyrics to ‘Old Man’ (such a great song), the show began.
John Cougar Mellencamp. From a young age, I had an aversion to him, and I can’t even remember what did it. But because I was in the very back of the room and couldn’t see him well, I focused on the song, ‘Down By the River’ (such a great song). He played with T Bone Burnett, who came out several times over the course of the evening. I thought it was quite nice, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I like the song so much or if I just had really low expectation for JCM.
Next, Ozomatli came out and performed ‘Mr Soul‘. While their latin/hip hop/rock fusion seemed like an odd fit, I found it to be really interesting in comparison to the rest of the evening.
Then Jackson Browne performed ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down‘. This is one of those songs that can’t be separated from Young- the imperfections and off tune character needs to be there- Jackson Browne made it too perfect, and it lost something.
Jack Black launched into a story about when Tenacious D played Bridge School. I’ve been lucky enough to go to 2 Bridge School shows, and they truly are special. Black talked about meeting Young, and he was compelled to say something to make a ‘rainbow connection’….but would advise us to keep it simple and casual with out heroes. He then introduced the next act by poking fun of the CSN&Y name, saying how they could have snatched up Soundgarden, Nickelback, even U2…….or done something like Rocket Nugget Thunder Claw.
Stephen Stills and Sheryl Crow- who was on accordion- did a rendition of ‘Long You May Run‘. It was forgettable…I was in the back of the room and I could tell they were reading the monitors.
Black comes back out and confesses that he snuck on Young’s bus at Bridge School. “I was doing detective work….how do you do it?!” He continues, “he’s a saver- he saves things”. He informed us there was no joke here, he was just trying to get Young to tell him the secret.
‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart‘ was performed by Lady Antebellum, which is one of those weird pop culture phenomenons where two Ladys are famous at the same time.
Norah Jones played guitar to ‘Tell Me Why‘. It was pretty, but I wasn’t crazy over it like Lefsetz. By the way, it was interesting to live tweet a show with him….he’s a fast little devil, and so very negative. The stage was set up quite nicely, with multiple screens. Behind the performs tended to be a scenic series of images- for this performance it was a forest.
Black now talked about how he hosted SNL and Young was a musical guest. He described seeing him sitting cross legged on the floor with ‘childlike wonderment’. “Chicks dig Neil Young”, continuing, “he has the sensitive bad boy vibe”.
Emmylou Harris (with a guitar), Patty Griffin, and Lucinda Williams performed ‘Comes A Time‘ next. I had high expectations for this and they were unfortunately not met. There was something about the balance of the three performers that was off.
And then there was Wilco. Yes, I will agree with Lefsetz, there was something great about their performance of ‘Broken Arrow‘. It was thoughtful- they rehearsed it for 2 days beforehand, and you could tell. The end was a huge psychedelic climax that made me realize why people dig this band.
Josh Groban performed ‘Harvest Moon‘ (great song). Now, I went into this not a fan of Groban, and this definitely did not win me over. It was the wrong song choice for him (this is starting to feel like American Idol). He played piano, which also changed the vibe on the song…it needs guitar. It would have been perfect if Pearl Jam or Foo Fighters did this…it was a full moon that night, everyone is over the moon about Neil Young, and things like this only happen once in a blue moon….
Black talked about how Young is the godfather of grunge, which, while true, was an odd intro into the next performer, Everest. ‘Revolution Blues‘ sounded so spot on I thought Young had gotten up there. Everest, as well as Wilco, have toured with Young.
Dierks Bentley and Booker T did the famous ‘Cinnamon Girl‘. I either zoned out, or it just didn’t wow me, because I have no memory of it.
Black came out with a sign in tow, that Young had put backstage for all the performers. ‘Just do what you want to do, don’t listen to anyone else’. Great advice.
The next performance was another highlight for me- Ben Harper’s soul tingling rendition of the politically charged ‘Ohio‘. He played the slide guitar, and belted out the song with a lot of raw emotion.
‘Rockin’ In the Free World‘ was done by Keith Urban, John Fogerty, and Booker T. Behind them, screens showed a scene of a dark street with lights tracing by, which added to the thrill of the song.
When Black returned to the stage, he decided that he was so moved by the night that he would auction off his shoes- Ben Sherman ones, minus the arch support. They went for $600.
‘The Losing End‘ was performed by Elvis Costello, who is one of those artists I’ve just never been able to get into. The performance didn’t do any further convincing.
It would be my second time to see Jason Mraz in two days, and he performed ‘Lotta Love‘ alongside Shawn Colvin and the Grooveline Horns. I think it was at this point when it all hit me- Young’s work is so varied, yet distinctly him. And wow, the ratio of famous musicians to normal people in this room might actually make me in the minority!
Pleased with the shoe auction, but now realizing that he would have to continue barefoot, Black auctioned off his tie for $100.
Next Dave Matthews and gave an interesting little speech (where he referred to himself as a spineless egomaniac, I think…) before performing ‘Needle & the Damage Done’ (great song!), which I actually thought was quite nice.
Black now realized that the sign that Young made for the performers- telling them to do what they want- would be the best thing to auction. Someone offered $20K for it if Young signed it. Crazy.
Finally, the moment I had been waiting for, since they are the most personally relevant musicians to me of the bunch- Red Hot Chili Peppers. This would be my first time to see them, and it marked the first show with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. They played ‘A Man Needs A Maid‘, which made me cringe at first, but then I realized that Kiedis’ tendency to go out of tune matches Young’s. In fact, Kiedis was dressed as a young Neil in a floppy hat, sunglasses, and a green military jacket. Flea used a neon green bass with a neon orange circle in the middle. Josh K. sang some of the higher vocals in the song. His guitar tones sound very similar to Frusciante, at least to my uneducated ears.
Someone filmed this, but there is a lot of talking going on:
James Taylor came out and did ‘Heart of Gold‘ (such a GREAT song). Similar to JCM, I’m allergic to Taylor’s voice, but it ended up not being half bad. Low expectations, perhaps. Apparently he messed up the lyrics, claims Lefsetz. I didn’t notice in the back- it was a very straightforward performance.
Black came out and introduced a clip- long lost archival footage of Young, he says. It’s someone doing a very good impersonation of Young doing the viral American Idol hit, ‘Pants on the Ground’. Turns out it was Jimmy Fallon.
Of course, Black decided to auction off his pants at that point, and spent the rest of the show in red boxers, shoe-less and tie-less.
‘Helpless‘ was performed by none other than Elton John, Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow, and T Bone Burnett. It had always been a dream of mine to see Elton John, but I really wanted him to stay and play Tiny Dancer.
To cap off the performances, Crosby, Stills, and Nash performed ‘Human Highway‘. While it made sense to close with them, the performance could have had a bit more feeling.
It was time for the man himself to speak. Seemingly caught off guard, he walked from what seemed like a ways away to the podium. “No one told me I’d be up here”. He thanked everyone, the music community, which is home for him, and mentioned that this is the largest turnout ever for this event. “I forgot how many songs I’ve written”. He mentioned that he’s working on a new album, and has 4-5 songs ready. “I won’t stop”. He was glad to be in the company of his friends. He said he asks himself “who was that guy?” when he hears those songs. Quoting Dylan, “I don’t know the person who wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. He pointed at Tony Bennett, saying ‘he rocks’. “I hope to keep on going…see you again soon”.
It was kind of hard to process everything that I just saw. It was probably a good thing I was so far away from the stage, and could pretend it was just on television. I walked out next to Dwight Yoakum.
“But now it’s gettin’ late
And the moon is climbin’ high
I want to celebrate
See it shinin’ in your eye.”
-Harvest Moon, Neil Young
Check out this awesome pic sent to me by the auctioneer at the event, Steve Haworth. He assisted Black in selling the signs- 2 for $20K each!