July 20, 2010
by Michael C. Zusman
In this age of instant fame and ceaseless news cycle, the "icon"
label gets tossed around with reckless abandon. As Neil Young
demonstrated Monday night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, he's
the real deal -- a modern folk-rock legend without peer.
Through career turns spanning four decades with Buffalo Springfield;
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Crazy Horse; and on his own, Young's
timeless tenor has seamlessly weaved tales of love, dishonor, death
and despair while often focusing on his passionate disdain for war
and environmental destruction.
Monday night's 90-minute, 18-song show was no exception. Young mixed
examples from his thick book of classics with abundant new material.
Onstage, it was Young -- outfitted in white Panama hat, long white
linen jacket and well-worn jeans -- and his musical gear: a
collection of acoustic and electric guitars, two pianos and the pipe
organ that has seemingly traveled with him forever.
Young opened with three crowd-pleasers: "My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the
Blue)," "Tell Me Why" and "Helpless." From there it was on to
unexplored territory: the darkly humorous "You Never Call" ("You're
up in heaven with nothing to do/the ultimate vacation with no back
pain"), memorializing the recent death of a longtime friend and
associate, L.A. Johnson; "Peaceful Valley," a polemic on the costs
of America's westward expansion; a somber, compelling anti-war hymn,
"Love and War," which is every bit as good as his hurriedly produced
"Living With War" album was disappointing.
The balance of the show alternated between old and new: the
oft-covered Young/Crazy Horse rocker, "Down by the River" gave way to
the new, comparatively unremarkable "Hitchhiker." Young smoldered
into the anti-war anthem "Ohio" as he prowled and paced across the
stage. Two sweetly humble debut tracks followed: "Sign of Love" ("We
both have silver hair/and a little less time/but there still are
roses on the vine") and "Leia," played on the tinkly tuned upright piano.
Next, Young stepped up to the pipe organ as aficionados accurately
anticipated "After the Gold Rush," which Young played in a spare,
calliope-like arrangement with harmonica accents, moving into another
timeless number from the 1970 "After The Gold Rush" album, "I Believe
In You." A new eco-themed song, "Rumblin'," laments global climate
change and a slew of other environmental tribulations from Mother
Earth's perspective with the refrain, "I feel the rumblin' in her ground."
Two favorites, "Cortez the Killer" and "Cinnamon Girl," closed the
main set. Young played two encore tunes, "Old Man" from his 1972
album, "Harvest," and a last new song, "Walk With Me," which he
closed with feedback effects and a back-and-forth swing of his
Gretsch White Falcon guitar reminiscent of the pendulum on an old
The symbolism of that guitar swing -- the inevitable passage of time
-- was an unavoidable subtext throughout the show. The crowd was
mostly grayish. At 64, Young -- like the crowd -- was as energetic
and as passionate as ever, but he too is increasingly jowly and gray.
He couldn't hit the very top notes on "Down by the River," and
"Cinnamon Girl" was tuned low to avoid any problems. Not that anyone
among the respectful gathering seemed to care or even notice.
Scottish folk singer Bert Jansch, who fronted the 1960s and '70s band
Pentangle, opened the show. His brilliant finger-picking and relaxed
flow over a range of original and cover tunes with Irish traditional
and American blues themes was a perfect appetizer to Young's main course.