Saturday, April 16, 2011

Neil Young's solo tour

Last night, a group of us went to the Durham Performing Arts Center, a truly lovely venue, for the first show of Neil Young's new solo tour, Twisted Road.

I am so glad we did. What a show!

The opening act was legendary guitarist Bert Jansch. He came out, sat in a chair, played his guitar, and sang. His voice is strong, and his guitar playing is a wonder, not flashy but beautiful at all times. The sound mix was off on his vocals, so understanding him was frequently difficult, but I still greatly enjoyed his performance.

After a long intermission, Neil Young walked onstage. In jeans, shirt, white jacket, and white hat with black band, he looked relaxed and yet a bit shy. The stage was filled with instruments, including many guitars, two very different pianos, and a pipe organ, and in the course of the show he played them all.

He opened by sitting and playing a guitar and harmonica as he sang the classic "My My, Hey Hey." The crowd went crazy--and so did I. Of course, no one, including, I am sure, Young himself, could help but notice the irony of this sixty-six-year-old rock icon singing the lines he wrote in 1979 at age 34:

It's better to burn out
Than to fade away

Of course, one of the things that's so great about Young is that he has done neither. He has kept performing, kept being relevant, and, most importantly, kept producing good new work.

For the rest of the show, he mixed songs from his new Le Noise album with classic tunes, including "Cinnamon Girl," another selection that put the crowd on its feet. His sounds ranged from simple piano vocals to acoustic guitar to heavy-reverb electric guitar, with the pipe organ and harmonica together on one song.

I absolutely loved it.

I admire Neil Young's work even when there are parts of it that I don't love--and I do at least like almost all of it and love a lot of it--because he creates the art he wants to create, regardless of whether the conventional wisdom of the moment says the work is commercially viable. That's what all of us should do: create the art that matters most to us.

If this show comes near you and you at all like his music, do not miss Neil Young.

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