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Movie review: 'Neil Young Trunk Show' concert movie shows rocker still has it

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010; WE26

"Neil Young Trunk Show," Jonathan Demme's second concert film featuring the indefatigable rock star, may not achieve the transcendent heights of "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," but it has its own pleasures. If "Heart of Gold," Demme's 2006 chronicle of Young performing at Nashville's storied Ryman Auditorium, became a profoundly moving meditation on aging, loss and the radiant joy of a long marriage, "Neil Young Trunk Show" simply is what it is: a lyrical and loud anthem to endurance and sheer chops.

Filmed over two nights at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., "Neil Young Trunk Show" covers the old, the new and the in-between: Young and his stellar back-up band (including his wife, Pegi) perform such classics as "Cinnamon Girl," "Cowgirl in the Sand" and "Like a Hurricane," along with newer material. As the title suggests, the show has the ramshackle, spontaneous feel of a journeyman showing the audience the spoils of his travels. The stage is decorated with a broken-down neon marquee, a red telephone and a miniature guitar shop, and someone called Eric Johnson appears along with the band, creating paintings while the musicians play.

Johnson's presence is never entirely explained, nor is that red telephone. It's all just part of the vibe, which in "Neil Young Trunk Show" is that of an artist firmly in control of his curious persona and his mystical medium (Young appears in paint-splattered clothes on stage). Meanwhile Demme, commanding a team of camera operators led by the great Declan Quinn, captures it all with improbably formal sophistication -- viewers may not realize how difficult it is to make movies look this easy. "Neil Young Trunk Show" may not elicit so many tears as "Heart of Gold," but it has its share (just try to listen to his rendition of "The Believer" without a hankie). And then there are those long, bone-crunching jams: As Young clomps his way through "No Hidden Path," the keening distortion and thudding beats take on a heavy but somehow soaring monumentality. Filmed from a low angle, towering and scowling over his guitar, Young looks for all the world like a dinosaur once again roaming the earth.

*** Unrated. At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains nothing objectionable. 82 minutes.

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