Great show, nice energy, some long jams with everyone really stretching out, some tightly rehearsed quick numbers. The crowd was 97% Italian and way more into the classics than the new stuff. Here’s the set:
Love and Only Love
Dirty Old Man
Hey Hey My My
Too Far Gone
Oh Lonesome Me (acoustic)
Mother Earth (solo Neil on pipe organ)
Needle and the Damage Done (solo acoustic Neil)
Old Man (acoustic)
Winterlong (dedicated to Danny Whitten)
No Hidden Path
E: All Along the Watchtower
Rockin’ in the Free World
In Length (with guitar change notes and painting reports):
This was my first big sports arena rock show since moving to Italy two and a half years ago. First stop on Neil's summer Europe leg of the Chrome Dreams II tour. General admission, the venue was laid out like any smaller sports arena; kind of oval, seats on risers, open floor. Things hanging from the ceiling that look like acoustic tiles? A smallish set of stack speakers and a pair of single stack hanging speakers pointing directly forward. Spent most of the show about ¾ of the way to the front on the floor, stage left, in front of the Eric Johnson display easel. It was super freakin hot inside the arena and by the end of the night the cigarette smoke was a little heavy. Italian stoners don’t have the pipe culture of the New World, and they pretty much only roll together with tobacco.
Sound was good, less boomy than I expected, vocals a little low in the mix at times. Apparently we missed a local heavy-metal opening act. Oh well. A few false cheers as people mistook various crew for Neil. Then the lights went down and the crowd was very excited, very vocal. Red “N” painting on the display easel. Neil came on with blackie and launched into a long extended jam to open Love and Only Love. Long solos, clearly stretching out and experimenting, Neil often huddled up with Ben and Rick during solos. He was active, smiling, dancing, grooving along. Big reaction from the crowd, singing along, great psyched vibe among the crowd.
Quick changeup to a brown Gibson and Ben to hammond organ for a down and dirty Dirty Old Man. Neil was way more into this than the crowd. The song stomped right along in an uptempo march kind of feel, but the crowd seemed a little lost with pretty much all the tunes from the latest album.
Spirit Road came next, Ben back on guitar and Neil switching to what looked like a sunburst/black Gibson of some kind. Nice soaring workout, nothing super-extended, but a nice aggressive treatment. Again, the crowd seemed mostly unfamiliar with the newer material.
Neil switched back to blackie for Powderfinger, which a couple of people around us called from the first chord (in Italian of course: “pao-dair-feen-gair!”) and which got the crowd’s attention in a serious way. All of a sudden it was a super high energy show again, and Neil seemed to pick up on that. I thought at the time that the set lists are probably pretty well thought out.
After Powderfinger Neil waited for Eric to get a new painting ready. We could see about half of his workzone behind the band, so I knew what was coming…but he and Neil watched each other and synched it up so that the moment it hit the easel the first chords thundered out for Hey Hey My My (the painting read ‘out of the blue’ across the top and looked like Italian row houses with laundry hanging across the alleyway). Total rock and roll shout-along, huge thundering sounds, classic Neil in full force. Big crashing finale and I thought we might be due for a break or an acoustic segment. Instead, Neil just grinned and asked again how we were. Then he said “We love Italy! We hope you win the soccer game. What else can I say?” His tone of voice made me think he was unsure if people would understand him. People were delighted, shouting that they love him too, the soccer comment didn’t really seem to get anyone’s attention but this wasn’t really the soccer crowd. The team lost anyway (the Italian national team in the Eurocup semifinals. Italian fans only really care about their local city teams).
Ben switched to pedal steel, a skull and crossbones painting with Too Far Gone appeared, and a great uptempo electric version kept the crowd engaged. This got sort of a medium response; more than the new songs, but nothing like the Rust era material.
Neil handed off blackie for his acoustic, Ben switched to hammond organ, and a pink Oh Lonesome Me drippy spattered painting took its turn on the easel. This mellowed the crowd, but was a nice, together reading. Maybe the least special moment for the crowd, but Neil was definitely into it.
The band took a break at this point, and Neil stepped back to the pipe organ with his harmonica. Eric put up a Mother Earth canvas and Neil delivered a simply beautiful solo reading. This was the only action that the pipe organ saw. Neil came back out front with his acoustic and gave us a solo Needle and the Damage Done, complete with another canvas (a big hand with the title). The crowd was re-frenzied by this and gave the usual shout along, which didn’t fit as well as it did with Out of the Blue.
The band came back, Ben on pedal steel, a roadie whose name I missed with a banjo, Neil stayed on acoustic, and no picture for Old Man. Another highlight for the crowd, but I felt like this and Needle were the most rote, least heartfelt, and least well played songs of the night. Nothing overtly bad, but these two really felt like the obligatory overplayed hits to me.
After this came the band intros, Pegi took up the vibes, and Neil strapped on a white hollow-body electric that might have been a Gretsch? I really have no idea. The intros finished with Neil saying that the next song was for a band member who was no longer with them, but was there in spirit. Then he paused and said “This is dedicated to Danny Whitten” and they launched into Winterlong. This almost felt like an encore; it was anthemic and the band gave off a sense of serenity as they repeated the chorus a couple of extra times. Neil was working out again, taking nice long solos that sounded like he was exploring some possibilities.
Pegi left the vibes, Neil switched back to Blackie and the final painting appeared, multi colored drippy thin spirals on a brownish field without words. No Hidden Path ran about twenty minutes (sorry I don’t have more precise times, too hot for a watch) with supremely extended jams and genuine improvisation and onstage communication among the band members. Great finale. Total vibe of ‘let’s keep playing!’ as Neil soloed and soloed and sang another chorus and soloed some more.
The encore started and then stopped and blackie got re-tuned. Then a great Watchtower that went on and on, with Neil repeating the last verse and then the last line, over and over as the band rolled on. For a non-Crazy Horse lineup they definitely had a similar feel once they got going. Rockin in the Free World wrapped it up, with Neil breaking all the strings and thrashing blackie wildly around at the end. Incredible! Watchtower felt like the song the band wanted to play, Free World was the song the crowd wanted to hear. They were obliviously pleased, but it felt just a tiny bit forced to me.
Overall, I felt it was an excellent performance, high energy, the band seemed genuinely engaged with each other and Neil was definitely interacting with the crowd in a positive way. The few low spots weren’t all that low, all things considered. The sound was mostly pretty good in the venue, I saw one set of mics and what looked like a pro-video setup by the soundboard. And lots of crappy low-res video happening too, so that’s probably floating around. My favorite detail: the shouts of "Nello!" because Italians always translate everyone's name.
If any zoners are ever in Florence definitely get in touch!