90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG
Neil Young looks like an old hobo. He’s not big on personal hygiene or sartorial statements. He rarely shaves and wears clothes that probably wouldn’t pass muster at any self-respecting thrift store.
But he’s a musical genius – a great songwriter, a superb instrumentalist, and possessor of one of the great bad voices in rock. By that I mean that like Bob Dylan, his singing isn’t good by technical standards, but it’s exactly what his songs require.
Jonathan Demme’s “Neil Young Journeys” is a concert documentary capturing Young’s solo performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall as part of his 2010 tour to promote his “Le Noise” album.
The musical numbers alternate with documentary footage of Young driving around his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, in a 1956 Crown Victoria, visiting his old haunts (his former home is now an overgrown lot) and ruminating about life (he says he only listens to music while in a car).
Hard core Young fans may enjoy this lazy reverie, but the real attraction of “Neil Young Journeys” (director Jonathan Demme’s third doc about Young) lies in the performances.
The program features tunes from “Le Noise” (“Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” “Sign of Love,” “Love and War,” “Rumblin’ ”) along with some Young classics like “Down by the River,” “Ohio,” “I Believe in You” and “My, My, Hey, Hey.”
Of particular interest here is Young’s dexterity on several instruments. There are, of course, numerous opportunities for some savagely lyrical electric guitar, but there’s room for wonderfully subtle acoustic work as well. Particularly effective is a version of “After the Gold Rush” in which Young plays both harmonica and a vintage harmonium (a 19th-century foot-pumped version of an organ).
Technically “Neil Young Journeys” is solid if unremarkable…although by placing a mini-camera on Young’s stage mike Demme allows us to enjoy at least one song from an otolaryngological perspective.
| Robert W. Butler