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Neil Young Trunk Show -- Film Review

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AUSTIN -- Following up on 2006's "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" with the second film in an anticipated concert trilogy, Jonathan Demme returns with "Neil Young Trunk Show: Scenes from a Concert," an appreciably more visceral and spontaneous documentary.

It's a given that the faithful will flock to anything Young-related, as they have for a remarkable 40-plus years, so returns from the urban art house circuit should be satisfactory. Expansion beyond his customary fan base may have to await the broader reach of home video and cable.

"Heart of Gold" was a full-scale staged production of Young's "Prairie Wind" album, premiering the Canadian plains song cycle at Nashville's storied Ryman Auditorium with supporting C&W luminaries, a gospel choir and a host of additional musicians filling out Young's core band.

In "Trunk Show," Young -- who also produced under his usual Bernard Shakey credit for his Shakey Pictures banner -- and Oscar-winning director Demme go for a much more stripped-down affair, covering a two-night stand at the Tower Theatre near Philadelphia during Young's 2007 tour supporting his album "Chrome Dreams II."

 

Relying on a five-piece road band that also backed him on "Heart of Gold," rather than his classic Crazy Horse ensemble, Young combines acoustic and electric sets covering highlights from his back catalog and more recent releases. Many songs, including such gems as "Cinnamon Girl," "Old Man," "Like a Hurricane" and "Oh Lonesome Me," are presented uncut, offering luxuriously long takes of Young bent over his classic acoustic guitar (once owned by Hank Williams) or rocking out on "Old Black," his Gibson electric.

While selections from "Chrome Dreams II" aren't as recognizable, an extended jam on "No Hidden Path" recalls how Young has inspired hard-rocking bands from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Sonic Youth and the Pixies with his guitar pyrotechnics.

Young's raw energy is evident in his tremendous power chords and fierce delivery on electric tunes, balanced by a high, plaintive croon on unplugged numbers. The performances are intense and often emotional, backed by a group of musicians who know Young's songs almost as well as he does and are able to interpret them anew with successive iterations.

Demme captures the action on nine frequently handheld HD cameras, along with some evocatively shaky Super 8mm footage, all of which editor Glenn Allen deftly cuts together without distracting from the tunes. The overall aesthetic is lo-fi and on-the-fly, which suits Young's improvisational style and feedback-laden guitar excursions. Interviews and backstage material are minimal, keeping the focus on the music.

From his musical origins with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young through his prolific solo career and numerous collaborations, Young's music has maintained an artistic integrity and emotional resonance matched by few other artists. While Demme's latest doc might not fully express the sublime arc of Young's career, it's another worthy contribution to the artist's lifelong body of work.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival

Opened: Friday, March 19 (Abramorama)
Production: A Shakey Pictures/Clinica Estetico Production
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producers: Bernard Shakey, Elliot Rabinowitz, Jonathan Demme
Executive producer: L.A. Johnson
Director of photography: Declan Quinn
Editor: Glenn Allen
No rating, 83 minutes