Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Freewheelin' Neil Young: Seemingly Haphazard Set Happily Provides Thrills and Chills -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Neil Young
Solo acoustic tour
w/ opening act John Hammond, Jr. 
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
June 30 (also played 7/1)

If, prior to arriving at the Auditorium on Saturday night, I hadn't taken a gander at what Neil Young had played two nights earlier in St. Louis--the first stop on his brief solo acoustic tour--I imagined I could've easily believed the living legend was just winging it.

For even as the performance largely hewed to the same setlist--click here to see what was played at the first of Young's two Chicago shows, which was mostly matched the next night as well--Neil himself often didn't seem to know what he might play next.

Frequently he ambled, paused and/or oscillated between several acoustic guitars, one electric one, a banjo, other stringed instruments, three pianos and an organ before seemingly making a decision and delivering his next tune.

Let me be clear, given that at some point over the past year or so I had read suggestions that Young may have been experiencing serious health issues--and I do not know if this was ever true, nor the possible ailment(s) or severity--I never sensed that the 72-year-old Canadian was impaired or addled.

Photo credit: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune
Belying the brilliant incisiveness of his lyrics, for years "Uncle Neil" has struck something of a bemused, disheveled and/or bewildered chord in his onstage demeanor.

And while on Saturday, he expressed gracious appreciation to be playing music for a full house of loyal fans nearly 5 decades after first coming to Chicago, his general good spirits warmed my heart more than made me wonder if he was reflecting on life's darker roads.

Given those fears--acutely legitimate or not--made me overtly glad just to be seeing Neil Young once again, singing any songs, to whatever degree of planned structure or connective thread.

So while I could readily imagine some in the audience thinking this wasn't the most demonstrably professional of concerts, or that Neil Young was somewhat absent-mindedly picking songs out of the air, or that he didn't play this or that classic they really wanted to hear, I genuinely loved it.

And not just sentimentally.

Few rock artists, ever, can claim a catalog on par with Neil Young, and even with the St. Louis outline vaguely in mind--and generally followed--it was pretty cool not knowing what he might pull out next.

Photo credit: Jon Gitchoff / St. Louis Post-Dispatch
For despite the somewhat laconic approach, just about everything he played sounded great, instrumentally and vocally.

Delights included gems I knew well--"Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "There's a World," "Are You Ready for the Country," "Tonight's the Night," "Out on the Weekend," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Heart of Gold"--but also some I didn't, including a nice trio from 2010's Le Noise album ("Angry World," "Love and War," "Peaceful Valley Boulevard").

Alluding to the show's loose construction, Young admitted that he "just kinda walks around and sees what happens," but noted that it had worked well "the other night" (i.e. in St. Louis).

But though he did have something more of a plan than it may have seemed, the fifth song on Saturday--1969's "Cowgirl in the Sand"--deviated from the prior setlist.

I thought it might have taken the place of something I wanted to hear even more, but after strapping on an electric guitar following "Mellow My Mind," Young began casually introducing a song he had written "at my friend's Crosby's house" before ripping into "Ohio," one of the most potent protest songs ever written.

It was phenomenal.

Also bringing me close to tears was an organ-driven rendition of another classic not in the St. Louis set: "After the Gold Rush," perhaps my favorite of all Neil Young songs.

All told, the man played 22 songs--4 more than he did in St. Louis, and 2 beyond what he'd perform at his second sold-out Chicago show on Sunday night.

We even had a terrific opening act: noted bluesman John Hammond, Jr., the now 75-year-old son of the famed record producer who had discovered and/or signed Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and other legends.

So sure, Neil Young's latest concert--the 7th time I've seen him beyond a guest spot--was more a haphazard, or haphazard-seeming, affair than a meticulous one.

And for whatever reason, it didn't quite equal the solo show I saw him deliver at the Chicago Theater in April 2014.

But on a variety of levels, due to the music itself and not just, it still felt pretty damn special.

Here's a clip of "Ohio" someone posted to YouTube: 

1 comment:

Ken said...

I guess Young is trying to make it appear to be improvised...which is a pretty interesting idea in itself. It's never a question of a "bad" Neil Young concert...only questions of "how good" to "great". Quite an accomplishment after 60 years.