Neil Young

In Berlin (Rhino Video/DVD)

The packaging for the rerelease of this 1982 West Berlin concert is designed to distract you from the fact that the show was staged in support of Trans, the album where Neil Young's obsession for Devo spilled into Kraftwerk and Klaus Naomi territory. But the After the Gold Rush-era portrait on the front cover and "featuring the Trans Band" billing in microscopic lettering aren't necessary, since the backing combo here features two fourths of Crazy Horse and the Buffalo Springfield, while six out of the 11 songs are the usual Young showstoppers ("Cinnamon Girl," "My My Hey Hey," "Like a Hurricane," etc.) that he couldn't ruin if he sang 'em through a tuba. Honestly, when has Young ever played "The Needle and the Damage Done" where he didn't look and sound like he was thinking about his fallen comrade/guitarist Danny Whitten?

The DVD returns the otherwise unavailable title track to circulation but offers no bonuses -- aside from the benefit of hindsight, something that makes you appreciate the Trans period all the more. While Young's excursions down the Numan Highway were often tough sledding on record, they're positively gripping as an audio/video experience.

For starters, Young and Nils Lofgren -- freed up by the then-novelty of wireless guitars and headsets -- are bouncing over the stage like siblings strumming tennis rackets in their room. But you don't actually notice how goofy their usual stage moves are until they ditch the guitars and are forced to "make show" as the Germans used to yell at the Silver Beatles. With their vocals neutered through a vocoder as to sound like Madame Butterfly, the fellas have no choice but to camp it up like Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald on the comical "Sample and Hold." Lofgren walking down a runway like a supermodel? Young reenacting a Medic Alert commercial? This stuff would never fly at a Young concert now, where the audience deck is stacked with Classic Rock fuddy-duddies. Here, though, it makes for a more varied and ambitious show than usual, as the song list juxtaposes electronic operatic arias like "Transformer Man" with a stripped-down "Old Man" -- not to mention putting "Computer Age" and "After the Gold Rush" in the same set. Viewed nearly two decades later, it seems like ol' Neil was making connections in his body of work that critics at the time refused to do.

 
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