The Gov Sunday 28 February 2021
Words – Geoff Jenke
Photos – Robert McArthur
Neil Young wore many hats when it came to music. There was the young Neil, in bands such as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. The hippy, acoustic, Neil as in the Harvest album, the heavier Neil with Crazy Horse, the country Neil with International Harvesters, even a grungy Neil with Pearl Jam on Mirror Ball, and, well, some strange Neil. Le Noise anyone? There are many political songs, love songs and environment songs. Any band willing to tackle Neil Young songs has their hands full. No matter what songs you pick to play in 100 minutes of music, you will always disappoint some people.
Helpless are up to the challenge, celebrating some of Neil’s greatest songs, while not afraid to throw in a few “obscure” tracks for the hard-core fan, like me. This is the fifth time I have seen this band so they must be doing something right.
The band tell the audience it does not do impressions of Neil. “We don’t dress up like Elvis, or Neil. We play the songs we like and there maybe a few with our own interpretations.” With that, the first set was the more “laidback Neil”, with Down by the River, Walk On, Helpless, Comes a Time and Long May You Run getting an airing. They did however start the show with two relatively obscure tracks in Out on The Weekend and Looking for A Love, both excellent. Apparently, it is forty-nine years (1972) since Harvest was released, so the band played Heart of Gold before the encore. Maybe next year they can come back and play the album in its entirety.
The second half was the more electric Neil, with a smoldering Powderfinger opening the set. Southern Man was loud, angry and electric, as it should be. When You Dance is one of my favourite songs and they didn’t disappoint and of course they rounded out the set with (Hey Hey My My) Into the Black with, interestingly, the bass bought to the fore, loud and proud. It worked!
Todd Sibbens on guitar was busy swapping from electric, to steel guitar and to banjo, a master at all of them. Tom West on vocal doesn’t try to impersonate Neil’s voice. He just lets his own voice do the vocals, his own way.
The encore was a little bit of a letdown. The songs were good and the first two, Harvest Moon and Old Man sensational, but there was no big build up to the end. While the songs Cripple Creek Ferry and For the Turnstiles are good songs, they didn’t end the show on a high, with a few people around me wondering what songs they were. It needed a Southern Man or Hey Hey to finish it off.
Helpless are a really good band and this night’s performance was once again first class. However, to finish I would like to make a few suggestions, not criticisms, if I may. This show was exactly the same as the last time I saw them two years ago. Some different songs would have been nice. Maybe even a couple of Neil’s newer songs, like from Psychedelic Pill. Also, maybe, if vocalist played electric guitar for the second half, the songs would have risen to a new, Crazy Horse, level. Maybe there is a reason he doesn’t.
I will still return to see them anytime they play because Helpless are magnificent. And I still am holding out for Rocking in the Free World (12-minute version?) and Slip Away. Pretty please!