Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Neil Young stops the crowd at Carnegie Hall from clapping and he's got a point

During the first of four shows he's playing at Carnegie Hall this week Neil Young stopped a song because the audience was clapping in the wrong time. According to the New York Times review "Mr Young seemed rattled by the precarious balance of worship and familiarity exhibited by the capacity crowd".

There are times when Neil Young seems a bit up himself, as the young people might say. This doesn't sound like one of them. I know exactly what the writer means by the worship and familiarity. It happens all the time these days when you go and see icons. The audience are so keyed up for the experience that they get ahead of themselves. They're not reacting to what's going on in the hall. They're celebrating the fact that they're in the same room as a legend.

When I went to see Bob Dylan recently I sat near a middle-aged woman who stretched her arms towards him in supplication throughout every song. If this had been a church service you would have moved away from her. At that gig we were close enough for Dylan himself to be able to see her. He must have found it disturbing as well. Then again I'm sure he's used to it by now.

I'm writing this while listening to Live At The Cellar Door, a collection of live recordings of Neil Young made in 1970 when he had just written the songs that made his name. There's no untoward audience reaction here, no cack-handed clapping along to songs that really don't call for any sort of percussion and he can even sing the line in After The Gold Rush about "I felt like getting high" without anyone answering with an approving whoop. It's a relief.


  1. Neil's Unplugged is full of whoops and "yeah"s. I had't really noticed until someone mentioned them; now they're un-ignorable. You're welcome :)

  2. I have an old live version of 'Alison' where the crowd whoop like crazy whenever Elvis sings the "my aim is true" line. It's as if they're all shouting "WE HAVE THAT ALBUM! IT'S GREAT!"

    American audiences are the worst for that sort of thing.

  3. I remember the Bruce Springsteen solo tour in 1996. After the first song Springsteen asked politely but firmly to be quiet during the music and only start applauding after the songs had ended. He also asked to cut out the Broooooce-s altogether.

  4. The worst thing these days is, because they listen to songs through ear plugs, kids learn every word of every song, and then they sing along very loudly. At Neil Young concert a couple of years ago an older fan turned around and snapped at a youngster hollering away, "We came to hear him, not you." I was cringing but delighted.

  5. I went to see Steve Miller in Oxford many years ago. Strangely he played very quietly and all I could hear was the shouts of 'yaaaaay Steevie' and such like from the crowds of American airmen from the local base at Upper Heyford. I think they would have roared their approval of any U.S. act to be honest, being stuck thousands of miles from home with a bunch of Limeys.

    Miller was pretty dull and we left for the pub. One of the few acts I have walked out on, and I've seen a few that deserved it more.

  6. in that book Isle of noises you recommended a while back (interviews with Uk songwriters) Andy Partridge is asked about missing the immediate feedback of a live audience and he says something like -they're not applauding you, they're congratulating themselves on recognising the intro-.

    when PJ Harvey did the editor slot on the Today prog, there was a rash of tweets from people rushing to announce their familiarity with Tom Waits.

    But then I know I have applauded the opening notes at more than a couple of gigs, so, I'll reflect quietly on this.

  7. I think that's true, Michael. They are applauding themselves on what they see as their own good taste. And since I took steps to ensure that I didn't hear PJ Harvey's Today programme I didn't hear the people rushing to announce their familiarity with Tom Waits. People have been saying "I really like him but you've probably not heard of him" about Tom Waits since 1975.

  8. Getting back to the clapping, Neil's not the only one to take umbrage when audiences get it wrong. Taj Mahal once gave a German audience explicit lessons in clapping on two and four:

  9. Yeah, crowds clapping on one-and-three really pisses me off. Most recently for me, it happened with Chic at Bestival. The bassist (I think) came stage front and started a clap on the off-beats. The crowd followed reasonably well, until he backed off and returned to his bass. Over the course of about four bars, the clapping migrated to ones-and-threes, basically killing the groove Chic were creating.

    What are these people doing at gigs?

  10. I'll never forget a line in the review of Neil Young Unplugged in Q Magazine, in 1993. I seem to recall it said that someone ill-advisedly decided to whoop their approval during The Needle and the Damage Done. "Such is the strength of this set," it said, "his shame will pursue him for years to come".

    Pretty sure the review was written by one David Hepworth.