Sunday, November 04, 2007

Rock 'n Roll Heaven

Just when I think we’re getting too old to go to any more rock concerts, a week like this one comes along and my faith in the restorative powers of music is renewed.

As part of being named “Employee of the Month,” Tim was given two free tickets to any sports or cultural event of his choice. I was secretly hoping he’d pick the Neil Young concert, but he went with Bruce Springsteen instead, mostly because we had never seen him in concert and Tim thought we probably should at least once in our lifetime. The deal was sweetened when Springsteen’s bandmate Little Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio on “The Sopranos,” came to the radio station and gave out passes to a meet-and-greet he was hosting before the show.

The concert was held at the L.A. Sports Arena, perhaps best known as the site of the 1960 Democratic national convention. When Tim reminded me that the Arena would probably soon be demolished, I groused, “But this is where JFK was nominated, for cryin’ out loud! IT’S HISTORIC!!”

But, yeah, the building has certainly seen better days. It was grungy and, by today’s standards, relatively small. The seats were nothing more than folding chairs bolted into cement. We had general admission tickets “on the floor,” which meant we got to stand for the entire concert.

Traffic was worse than usual due to an accident that had closed the 405 freeway all day, so we practically had to run from the parking lot in order to make the meet-and-greet on time. Little Steve was there, wearing his signature bandana while glad-handing the fans. This was definitely a “jeans and t-shirt” kind of crowd—“working class” concertgoers that Springsteen is famous for. The line to meet Steven was too long, so we just looked at him from afar and then went to claim our spots on the Arena floor.

The concert was phenomenal. Springsteen plays with such energy that I thought every song was the final song of the evening. At one point, I turned to Tim and said, “I can’t believe you and Bruce are the same age!” We slunk out at 11PM, exhausted as people stomped and hooted for the band to come out and play yet another encore.

Meanwhile, a couple of miles up the road on the very same night, our perennial favorite Neil Young was entertaining folks at the Nokia theater, downtown L.A.’s newest concert venue located across the street from the Staples Center. Obviously we couldn’t be in two places at once, so I was very interested to read the L.A. Times review of the show on Thursday. The reviewer loved it, of course.

Luckily for me, Young was returning to the Nokia on Friday, so I called Tim immediately. “We HAVE to see Neil Young in concert!” I implored. “Can you PLEASE get tickets through your connections?!”

The show was sold-out and Tim’s contact had the day off, so he went to a broker, StubHub, instead and found us good seats in the orchestra. We couldn’t get them until two hours before the show.

Because there was also a basketball game that night, we decided to leave obscenely early. I picked-up Tim at work at 4:30PM and then headed east on surface streets. Not only did we arrive downtown in plenty of time, but we were also able to find a free parking spot on the street! I may be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a concert ticket, but I refuse to pay $20 for parking—the ultimate highway robbery.

With time to kill, we decided to eat at the Liberty Grill, two blocks from the theater and the Staples Center, where the game was being played. We had fun trying to guess where the other guests were going after dinner. A group of three men in their 30s, eating ribs and burgers: basketball game. An old hippie couple wearing their best tie-died t-shirts: Neil Young concert!

We then walked ten long blocks to StubHub (I wasn’t about to give up my primo parking spot!) to pick-up our tickets. There we met three very young college kids who were hoping to nab last minute basketball seats. They had no idea who Neil Young is! We got back to the Nokia a half-hour before show time.

We’ve seen Neil Young many times before, including last year’s fabulous Hollywood Bowl concert with Crosby, Stills and Nash, but we’ve never seen him quite like this. For the first half of the show, he ambled onstage alone and sang several songs, accompanied by an harmonica and either one of eight guitars, which were set-up around his chair, or one of two pianos. Some of the songs were well-known, but many sounded like he had just written them the night before. He didn’t engage much with the audience—but, then again, he didn’t need to because his music said it all. I was very moved and amazed.

After a brief intermission, Neil, who had (quite frankly) looked fairly doddering during the acoustic set, returned to the stage with members of his old band Crazy Horse and suddenly transformed himself into the rock legend we all know and adore. Playing electric guitar, he pounded his way through classic songs and new as he lumbered around the stage like a big kid. He almost ruined the night by indulging in a 20-minute solo that everyone but us loved—good grief, we ARE getting old!—but redeemed himself during the encore by playing “Cinnamon Girl” and “Tonight’s the Night.” I was so ecstatic that I don’t even remember walking the five blocks to our car.


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