Tuesday, April 26, 2011

THE LONER. Thanks to Plonsky shop teacher Leyla Bandy I got to see Neil Young's solo show at Avery Fisher Hall last night. The audience appeared to be mostly middle-aged executives dressed like roadies. But who knows, I haven't seen him in about 15 years, so maybe that's his crowd now.

The old guy played some acoustic hits at the top to remind everyone he was Neil Young, and then strapped on the electrics and began to diverge. When I first listened to Le Noise I figured Young was doing a Nebraska -- stripping down to get to the essence. Or maybe he was tired of splitting the take with Crazy Horse. But this show convinced me that what he's tired of is the restrictions of playing in a band, including having to keep up a steady rhythm. He sped up "Ohio" till the choruses and then slowed back down for them, as if playing that riff was too pleasurable to rush. (Does he still get high?) In other songs he appeared to become enamored of a groove and stick with it till he was satisfied that it was wrung out. He deconstructed "Cortez the Killer" so that every line came with drawn-out guitar embellishments, and when he did the outro straight it seemed almost parodic -- like cheering Cortez "dancin' across the water" was the lame mainstream move. (He played many of the instrumental passages of "Cortez" to a wooden Indian upstage.)

And that was great. He's Neil Young, he can do whatever he wants. He did perform pretty normal versions of "After The Gold Rush" and "I Believe in You" and such like; the crowd swooned, and I suppose I did too. He's in pretty good voice, too -- despite a little thinness at the tippy-top and some unexpected downward modulations, it's surprisingly clean and expressive still. If you just wanted classic Neil you got enough of that.

But while he's happy to open up his treasure chest for the punters, he never comes onstage to pander. Some decades back I saw Young start a Meadowlands show with acoustic faves, then put on the headset mike and sunglasses and sing to tapes, which utterly stilled the swaying seas of buckskin. Later he asked the crowd, "Do you wanna go back?" Everyone roared that they did. "How far back do you wanna go?" he asked -- and he brought out the Shocking Pinks to play rockabilly. As I watched concertgoers stream through every exit door in the auditorium, I thought: This man will never be a nostalgia act. So far I've been right.

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