BROOKLINE — Neil Young, only half-kiddingly called the Godfather of Grunge, is the subject of a trilogy by Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme. The 2006 installment, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, includes such classic early ballads as “Harvest Moon" and “The Needle and the Damage Done" that highlight the folksy Neil Young the world knows best.
Neil Young Trunk Show, on the other hand, rocks the house then it rocks the house some more. For those who appreciate Young’s loud, non-acoustic side, this is a great concert film. Known for having made such groundbreaking performance movies as Stop Making Sense, Demme makes this genre look easy. Except for a brief Brady Bunch-style split screen and some cinema verite turbulence, there is very little to detract attention from the musician and his music.
Sixty-four-years old, and looking even older, Young has a well-worn appearance befitting his legendary status. Some rock stars (hi Mick Jagger) start looking ridiculous in the roles they rode to fame. Young, on the other hand, rocks so perfectly, so amazingly, so authentically, that he almost makes the idea of someone under 50 picking up a guitar seem silly.
Young doesn’t look frail, and he exhibits more energy than plenty of guys half his age. But the bittersweetness of memory, long a subject of his music, is now etched in his face. His wrinkles are deep and his long hippie hair has thinned into a sort of wispy mullet. When his rheumy eyes meet the gaze of the camera, it’s chilling.
Hunching and lurching like an elder gorilla, insanely jamming with two other old guys on guitars, Neil Young extends the song "No Hidden Path" into twenty minutes of glorious noise. It’s the best part of the ride, or the worst if you were weren’t really on-board in the first place.
"Cinnamon Girl" and "Like a Hurricane" are probably the most widely-recognizable songs, which is another reason why this trunk show isn’t for everyone. Even Demme said “If you’re not a Neil Young fan, don’t waste your time — if you don’t love electric guitar, don’t go.”
Conversely, if you are a Neil Young fan, and you do love electric guitar, seek this out.
At the local premier of Neil Young Trunk Show at Coolidge Corner Theatre earlier this week, Jonathan Demme was present to talk about his work. Unfortunately for Neil Young fans, that was one show only. If you want to catch this film in a theater before it goes to DVD and Blu-ray, one of the few places to do so is Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge. There, starting March 19, it will run for one week.