I saw Neil in Minneapolis last night, and it was a blast! My friends and I arrived at the Fine Line at 7pm, one hour before the doors opened. About twenty people had managed to squeeze into the Fine Line's foyer, which was heated, but me and several other unfortunate people had to wait outside in sub-zero weather for an hour. At one point, Sebastian Steinberg walked out the front door and said, "You poor bastards!" A few people were really complaining about having to wait outside and thought it was really mean that the Fine Line didn't open the doors early...but, I understand why they didn't. It's probably difficult enough preparing a club for a show without fifty extra people wandering around.
Anyways, after getting inside we waited for Rhett Miller's set. He came on at 9pm, and immediately jumped into "Our Love" from his solo album. I was very impressed with Rhett. He's one of the most energetic performers I've ever seen, and after a few songs we could all tell it was sincere--he wasn't just shaking his head and thrashing about to emulate some kind of rock 'n roll cool, he was genuinely that into his performance. He played several songs from his solo album as well as five or so Old 97's songs, including some of my favorites ("Salome," "Buick City Complex"). His energy was very contagious and he won the audience over with his warm personality. I thought his voice sounded fantastic. Some people here complained that after a while his songs started to all sound the same...I sort of agree, but those people should listen to those songs fleshed out by Rhett's excellent band (the Old 97's) before making any final judgement. Get "Satellite Rides," you'll love it.
Rhett was also very gracious and said how lucky he was to be opening for Neil, and noted what a great job he has where he can get paid to sit back and listen to Neil perform.
I should mention that the Fine Line is not a very big place, and it was packed to the gills. The show itself was fantastic but I was very uncomfortable, as were everyone else I'm sure. We were literally shoulder to shoulder and after a while my back started killing me from standing so rigidly upright.
Neil came on at 10 and opened with "Locked Out," then went into "King Tide" which was a nice surprise. Neil and Shon were noticably more comfortable with each other as guitarists, their interplay much more adventurous than last May. Neil's voice sounded EXCELLENT, he nailed all the high notes without strain.
A woman named Sherry (or Cheri?) filled in for Lisa on "Driving Me Mad." Apparently Lisa was home nursing her sick cat. I won't attempt to recount the entire set list, but several songs stick out. "Fall At Your Feet" sounded great and the crowd sang along eagerly. Neil played a solo piano version of "Hole In the River," and though I've never really liked that song it sounded good in that format. "I Got You" rocked good and hard.
Neil talked about all the snow in Minneapolis and how impressive it was, since he never saw it in NZ. Shon then sang a few verses of a Yoko Ono song about snow/winter, and Neil remarked it was certainly the best "snow song" he'd ever heard. Later, in the middle of "Pineapple Head" the band impressively leapt from the song's 3/4 time signature to an improvised blues song about snow (lyrics courtesy of Neil ). In general Neil kept the band on its toes all night, sometimes inserting improvised progressions in songs and basically just trying different things. It didn't all work perfectly but it was fun to see a rock solid band experimenting.
Neil played some new songs. "Love Is All That Remains" was lovely, though a few drunks were being obnoxious while the audience was entranced. There was another "brand new" song with no given title. It was more of a rocker, with a high-soaring chorus. Also, near the end of the night Neil played the so-called "Humming Song" and taught us a humming melody. It's a gorgeous song, with lots of exotic chords that sometimes sounded more classical in nature, like Debussy or Satie, and there was interesting use of meter that demonstrated how Neil's songcraft continues to evolve and incorporate more complex elements. Again, some drunks at the bar started screaming like idiots during that song, ruining a beautiful moment.
At one point Neil asked Rhett to join him on "Anytime," and thanked him for his "beautiful opening set." Hopefully this will satiate the people who complained about Neil not thanking Rhett in some shows. Other songs played include "Sinner," "Loose Tongue," "Private Universe," "Hello Sandy Allen" (what Neil could remember of it ) and "Last to Know" among others I can't remember right now.
A few people near the front of the stage were chatting during the show. Neil said, "You didn't come here for a good chat, did you? You can do that at home." Apparently they persisted, and later as Neil waited for his guitar to be tuned he turned to the conversationalists and said, "I'd really like to join in on this conversation. What are you talking about? Politics? Sports? Sex?" He said it in a joking way, but it was enough to quiet them down.
Neil also displayed some quick wit later on. As he was about to play the "Humming Song" during his second encore, a few women shouted "Don't Dream It's Over!" He stopped adn said, "I promise to play it next if you'll hum really loudly!" After the song he asked, "Did you hum?" They replied, "Yes!" Neil said to one of them, "I'm not surprised, you look like a hummer!"
Overall the show was great fun, and Neil played for a little over two hours. It was a powerful reminder of what a strong, vital, talented artist Neil still is after 25 years, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Can't wait for the Finn Brothers part 2 and the subsequent tour promised by Neil.