Neil Young, Still Searching: Review by Rick Mason


Neil Young Northrop Auditorium November 8, 2007 Review by Rick Mason Slideshow with photos by Daniel Corrigan

Almost inconspicuously, Neil Young slipped onto the Northrop Auditorium stage alone Thursday night, sat down inside a circle of acoustic guitars, adjusted his harmonica, and launched into "From Hank To Hendrix," a decade-and-a-half old song that looks wistfully at the past while trying to find hope for the future.

It set the tone for the next two hours, during which Young--in a solo acoustic set followed by an electric one with his band--essentially rustled through his back pages, rambling through a curious assortment of obscurities from his lengthy career, plus a handful of new tunes, and peppered by a slim assortment of indelible nuggets. For the ever-unconventional Young, a few days short of his 62nd birthday, this was about as far as he could get from a greatest-hits performance. But it should have been fascinating to even casual fans, witnessing an artist survey his life's work via the dust motes in the attic and use those wisps to fire up his imagination.

After a low-key, amiable opening set of country-rock tunes from wife Pegi, Young offered a first set that was strikingly intimate, thanks to a precise sound system that picked up every syllable, from his heartfelt vocals and unhurried shuffling to the piano or among his guitars between tunes.

Plus he genuinely seemed to be searching for something in songs that, as a whole, were full of uncertainty, loss, and grim tidings, from the 1970s-vintage unreleased tunes "Sad Movies" and "Love Art Blues" to the Young staples "A Man Needs A Maid" and "After The Gold Rush," the latter's tale of environmental cataclysm long ago updated to the 21st century. Young's deeply reflective mood started to lighten at the end of the set with the more upbeat "Love Is A Rose" and "Heart of Gold."

Switching to electric, and backed by longtime associates Ralph Molina (drums), Rick Rosas (bass), and Ben Keith (guitar, pedal steel), Young came out blazing in the second set with a blistering version of "The Loner, " followed by a slightly more ambling "Everybody Know This Is Nowhere." Next were two of only four new songs all night from the new Chrome Dreams II album: "Dirty Old Man," which was big on the visceral pleasures of pounding rock 'n' roll, and "Spirit Road," a minor Young epic that was gloriously ragged. After a more languid stretch that included the obscure "Bad Fog of Loneliness" and desolate cover of Don Gibson's "Oh, Lonesome Me," the band cranked it up again for an expansive run through Chrome's "No Hidden Path," Young venturing into one of his trademark maelstroms. Wringing squalling notes laden with angst and expiation from his guitar while gathered in a tight circle with Rosas and Keith, Young seemed to be trying to crack some fundamental code to universal truths, but uncharacteristically failed to find a satisfactory resolution, ending a bit tepidly.

But there was no such problem with the great, raging encore: "Cinnamon Girl" and "Like A Hurricane," both classic Young forays to the fiery edge of the abyss, left the packed house gasping for more.

If there was a sub-theme to the show it was stark loneliness--both specific and existential--complicated by the spiritual quest at the heart of Chrome Dreams. Neil Young didn't provide any easy answers Thursday, but in that miraculous slathering of guitar ecstasy at the end, he found a way to make the search a lot more palatable.