It took about eight and a half years, but I finally settled my score with Neil Young on Tuesday night. In May 1999, Young headlined a two-night stand at UT’s Bass Concert Hall, a series of performances that would yield his acclaimed live concert film, Silver & Gold. I didn’t go. I was in Utah (don’t ask). I have regretted that move for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, I’ve only seen Neil Young in the flesh two other times: 1. when he played Austin with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young in 2002, and 2. when he spoke (but did not perform) as the SXSW Music Keynote in 2006. In other words, I’d never seen Young perform solo material. And, his solo material is among my favorite rock music ever recorded/composed/inspired. Tonight, that changed. As soon as I realized Young would stop in L.A. on my first night here, I knew I had to attend. So, that’s what I just did. At the new and comfy Nokia Theatre in downtown L.A., I scored a great seat to watch a memorable show.
I was somewhat skeptical about seeing Young on this tour. His latest release, Chrome Dreams II, has received mixed reviews and I just wanna hear the Neil Young nuggets. No worries in the end, since the show was a balanced and measured tour through his varied and exciting catalog. The first 45 minutes of the show was all acoustic, and only Neil Young, surrounded by his wall of unplugged guitars. The selection for this hushed mini-set included “From Hank to Hendrix,” “Love Is A Rose,” “A Man Needs A Maid,” and an updated “After the Gold Rush” (with Young’s revision, “Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st Century“).
After a 10-minute intermission, Young returned to the stage with a full band, and ripped into a piercing version of “The Loner.” From there, all bets were off. The band serviced new tunes like “Dirty Old Man” just as well as classic compositions such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Winterlong.” In fact, much of my Chrome Dreams II worries were calmed, highlighted by the show-stopping 20-minute jam session that was the album’s “No Hidden Path.” Young and the band wrapped things up with “Tonight’s The Night,” a clever but kinda lazy choice (not to mention a kinda meandering note to end on). That said, it was a night full of momentum. You sometimes wonder why it’s worth seeing artists like Neil Young anymore. One only needed to be present when he tore through a stirring version of his classic, “Old Man,” to look at how far he’s come and what a legend he’s become. These days, he may be a lot like the man in the aforementioned song, but he performs with a conviction that will be forever Young.