Solo Trans (1984)
For all his greatness as a musician, Neil Young's attempts at dabbling within the medium of film tend to lean pretty heavily towards the half-assed and barely watchable. I wasn't sure what to expect from Solo Trans, although the screenshots on the back, focus on the loltastic Shocking Pinks era despite having a reference to Trans in the title, and the fact that it was only ever released on laserdisc had me pretty psyched for some of the cheesiest, most bizarre shit imaginable. Not to mention that Hal Ashby is credited as director, which is awesome for you since he also made Harold & Maude, one of your favorite motion pictures of all time back when you were a 16 year old girl.
Turns out it's much closer to being a traditional concert film than something more story driven like Human Highway. Only 60 minutes long, too. However, we are introduced to a number of WACKY characters along the way. There's a suit sportin' host/newscaster for the proceedings, whose commentary on such pressing issues as whether or not the Shocking Pinks will show up is shown on a large screen positioned on the stage. Then there's the Pinks' manager, who is interviewed by the host and acts like a pretty stereotypical italian mafia guy. The wives of Neil and Tim Drummond play two excited Shocking Pinks fans. Lots of poor acting to be found in these non music-oriented segments. Awesome!
However, the real draw here is the songs. Even with the barely amusing video segments that Neil was subjecting his audiences to, the musical content of a typical Neil Young show circa 1983 remains the most astounding aspect of such an event. Things start off pretty normal. A little too normal. Neil Young appears onstage to play some of his most obvious mainstream hits that the Dayton, Ohio audience gets a real kick out of. "Heart of Gold," "Old Man," "Helpless," "Ohio"... the glory days of CSN&Y and Harvest, before all that negativity set in. Acoustic guitar, harmonica, and three backing vocalists who I thought were some super butch ladies but are actually a group known as "The Redwood Boys" (WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THOSE GAYASS BACKING VOX ON THE EVERYBODY'S ROCKIN' LP!!!) doing the harmonies. All very familiar and inoffensive.
But not for long! "Don't Be Denied" is up next. It's not the deepest of deep cuts, but the crowd isn't quite as enthusiastic as they were for those first four hott traxx. The song chugs along in its excellent way for a couple minutes, but then suddenly during one of the post verse riff breaks, a forebodingly dark Synclavier chord and a sexy synth drum fill appear out of nowhere to give the song some extra pizzazz. It's glorious! They go away again during the verse, but come back again to do their thing a few more times. Afterwards, Neil's guitar tech Larry Craig is interviewed by the TV host fellow and explains just how the Synclavier works and states that Neil will be playing one during the second set of the night. But here are a few crazy things to keep in mind: 1) This wasn't actually the Solo Trans tour. 2) This was the Shocking Pinks tour. What the heck is he doing with a Synclavier? 3) The Solo Trans tour didn't even include very many songs from Trans, anyway.
And the fourth point I would like to raise is that during the next two songs, Neil plays a total of approximately three notes on the Synclavier right when he walks out, in addition to a dopey fill or two on the electronic drum set. After that, it's time for an actual performance, damnit, which means walking around the stage wearing sunglasses and singing along to a backing track. But it's not just any backing track. It's fucking "I Got A Problem"!!!!! From Landing On Water!!!!!! That album wouldn't even come out for another two years and these lucky Neil Young fans in 1983 get to hear one of its songs performed in a mind melting synth rendition!!!! KILLER!!!!!!!!!!!
The man stays around for a new wavey vocoder rendition of "Mr. Soul," which isn't too different from the one found on Trans. Not only is he rockin' his electric guitar this time, but this version's signature high pitched backing vocals are shown to be coming from a video of an expressionless Neil staring out into the audience. The crowd is really feelin' this song. They were probably just excited for the set of rockabilly tunes that Neil was about to crank out with the Shocking Pinks, though. This part of the film is a lot of fun, but of course the songs that they play aren't quite up to par with the selections featured during the rest of the film, which isn't much of a surprise considering the mediocrity associated with this '50s retro diner fetishism era. But still, "Payola Blues" (quite the barnstormer, this one!), two songs that wouldn't be released until the Lucky Thirteen compilation, and a cover of "Do You Wanna Dance?"... hard to say no to. Those Shocking Pinks really tear it up.
All in all, I'm just happy that video documents of Neil's wacked out '80s years exist for my viewing pleasure. I can't say if I prefer this to the more Trans-centric Neil Young in Berlin DVD, as I haven't seen that one in nearly a decade. The eclecticism here is a real plus, though, not to mention the fact that while the video footage shown between the sets is pretty damn corny, you still get a few words out of the man himself. And they're spoken in a funny Canadian voice. But I do have one issue with the thing and that's that it's just too short. This fact becomes all the more heartbreaking when you look at the unabridged setlist for this Dayton, Ohio music performance, especially during that first acoustic set. "Too Far Gone"? "Comes A Time"? "Only Love Can Break Your Heart"? "Sail Away"? Motherfuckin' "Powderfinger"??!! Fatherfuckin' "Old Ways" (just kidding, I don't want to hear this song)????!!!!!!!! Not to mention playing both "Love Is A Rose" and "Dance, Dance, Dance" when they're pretty much the exact same song. It's all just a little bit disappointing when you consider what this "movie" could have been. NOT TO MENTION the fact that he could have pulled performances from multiple shows on the tour, which would have meant that maybe "Transformer Man" could have made an appearance, from before it got replaced permanently in the setlist by "I Got A Problem" midway through the tour? I don't know, maybe the date in Ohio was just a particularly magical one. Still. He did "My My, Hey Hey (Out of The Blue)" during the sunglasses part, too, and that's not here.
What am I complaining for, though? This was the Shocking Pinks' time to shine and that is just what they do. Two thumbs up!!!
Download Link: "I Got A Problem"... just some really spectacular shit. Plus, you get a fun little interview at the beginning. What a deal.