Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Alone in a Paradise, Neil Young Captivates the Faithful -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Neil Young
Chicago Theatre
April 21, 2014

Rock is my religion.

I say this--as I have for years-- somewhat facetiously and mean no disassociation with Judaism (my genetic religion) nor disrespect to any other faiths and followers.

But beyond merely reflecting the fact that I have been to infinitely more concerts than services, the truth is that music has more so provided many of the things people derive from religion.

Community, camaraderie, comfort, contemplation, ethical insights, emotional sustenance, inspiration, motivation, joy, solace, hope, faith and a sense of transcendence have all been genuine aspects of what I've gotten from rock 'n roll (and also from other art forms).

And though over the years, Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles have been my foremost rock 'n roll deities, in seeing Neil Young on Monday night at the Chicago Theatre, it felt like I was in church.

Although I have only been in church for services a few times--in the name of tourism or curiosity--I say church and not temple because most synagogues aren't as lavishly ornate as the Chicago Theatre.

Designed by Rapp & Rapp, the 1921 movie palace is truly magnificent and its intricate carvings remind me of those in great cathedrals. It is one of Chicago's greatest treasures and I really should make a point of taking a tour.

Before Neil took the stage--himself, with more than a minion of guitars and pianos--the crowd was instructed that any videography would result in ejection and that flash photography was not allowed.

So other than a few idiots who needed to hear themselves be heard screaming down toward Neil, occasional obnoxious guttural shouts, a guy who felt compelled to let the whole theater know that the Blackhawks won and a drunk guy sitting behind my friend Ken--who was sitting separately from me and my friend Paolo--it really was the quietest, most respectful concert crowd I've ever experienced.

I took a few photos for this review, but very sporadically and no video, and it seemed most others in the house had their cameras and cell phones tucked away.

Dare I say, it felt reverent.

Young opened with "From Hank to Hendrix"--he would later tell us that one of the acoustic guitars he was playing had once belonged to Hank Williams--from 1992's Harvest Moon. He would subsequently play the title song from that album, but nothing any more current. This was an evening dedicated to his historic catalog going back to his Buffalo Springfield days ("On the Way Home," "Mr. Soul").

Highlights were many, including achingly beautiful renditions of "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "Harvest," "After the Gold Rush" and "Heart of Gold," among others.

A plaintive version of "Someday" from 1989's Freedom was also a great treat.

As a wonderful complement to his own classics, Young paid homage to heroes like Tim Hardin ("Reason to Believe"), Phil Ochs ("Changes") and Gordon Lightfoot ("If I Could Read Your Mind"), and these covers were all notably terrific.

Given how reverently Neil spoke about Ochs, it wasn't hard to imagine that the '60s folksinger's strident politicism had somehow influenced Young to write "Ohio" (with CSNY) and "Southern Man," which he delivered Monday night in staggering succession. (See the full setlist on Setlist.fm.)

After opening the second set by treating the crowd to a few verses of poetry, he played "Pocohontas"--whose lyrics cite Marlon Brando--and then spoke of how Brando had opted to have a Native American woman accept his Oscar for The Godfather. A great "Cortez the Killer" came next.

Young never conversationally sermonized, at least not overtly, instead speaking endearingly loopily about things like sleeping habits, how his daughter had painted his piano and that the show was "sponsored by water."

But with his incredible musicianship--he played all the instruments onstage--and especially the brilliance of his lyrics, there was true soulfulness and even spiritual moralism on both a micro and macro level, in keeping with how I introduced this review.

From being reminded that only love can break your heart, to having it expressed why a man needs a maid, to "give me things that don't get lost" to "thinking about what a friend had said and hoping it was a lie" to "don't forget what the good book said," I likely garnered more from Neil Young than I ever have from clergy.

Of course, given the vastness of his material and the acoustic nature of the evening, there were a whole lot of great Neil Young songs that didn't get played.

But as this show came just 18 months after I saw a barn burner at the United Center with Crazy Horse in tow--I also gave that performance @@@@@--this was a perfect complement in demonstrating how great Neil Young remains in his upper 60s. And yes, his voice still sounds terrific.

If you read this in time to get to Tuesday night's show at the Chicago Theatre, I highly recommend perusing StubHub.

I can't promise you a religious experience. Only a musically superlative one.

But quoting Neil Young quoting Tim Hardin, "Still I look to find a reason to believe."

And Neil, like many a legendary rocker who reminds of a time when artistry had an inherent earnestness and urgency, continues to provide one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review. I was there and this captured the reverence, beauty, poetry and soul of Neil Young's terrific, moving performance. Thank you for your lovely account. It let me cherish the concert all over again. Oh, and I've been in church and this as church to me, too, touching me to the core and inspiring me to see things in new ways through his truthful, beautiful and authentic lens.