DIRECTOR JONATHAN DEMME is obviously a bit of a Neil Young fanatic: He asked Young to contribute a song to 1993's Philadelphia, then filmed Young and his band Crazy Horse in 1994 for the Complex Sessions videotape. He also shot the 2006 Neil Young concert movie Heart of Gold and had TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe sing Young's "Unknown Legend" in Rachel Getting Married. And now we have the Demme-helmed Neil Young Trunk Show, a performance documentary culled from two 2007 concerts at Philadelphia's Tower Theater.
On that particular tour—which also made a stop in Portland at the Keller Auditorium—Young switched between his two most familiar formats: gentle acoustic and grizzly, squalling electric. Trunk Show has both, including a hauntingly plucked take on the still-breathtaking "Ambulance Blues" and a fuzzy version of "Like a Hurricane," which is so sloppy the band gives up and quits more than once, only to be revved back into gear by the old man.
And yes, Young is old, and does nothing to appear otherwise. His band seems even older; you half expect them to keel over mid-song, or for the onstage instruments to fall and vanish into their cavernous wrinkles. Young plays plenty of new tunes, none of which are anything spectacular, but Demme sure doesn't shy away from including them. "No Hidden Path" goes on for longer than 20 minutes (one-quarter of the film's running time), and I am certain I am not the first to say it's no "Cortez the Killer." The movie also includes fan bait in the form of old, unreleased tunes: The excellent "Sad Movies," dating from the mid-'70s, opens the movie, but solo renditions of "Kansas" and "Mexico" are pretty dismal.
Still, when Young's on, he's on, and there are few musical pleasures that can top him airing out the little-played "Harvest" or translating the Crazy Horse barnstormer "Cowgirl in the Sand" to weeping acoustic guitar. Demme is smart enough to stay out of Young's way most of the time, and that's when Trunk Show best displays its wares.