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Monday, Aug. 2, 2010

Neil Young w/ Bert Jansch @ The Riverside Theater

July 30, 2010

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The name of the tour provided a good clue. Anyone looking for a run-through of greatest hits at Neil Young’s “Twisted Road Tour” solo concert Friday at the Riverside Theater was bound to be disappointed.Yet fans who have followed Young’s career know that when you buy a ticket, the ride could go anywhere. And it is impressive to hear a performer four decades into his career still fearlessly blazing away.

On this evening Young’s one-man show included more than a half-dozen unreleased songs.The new material bodes well for a rumored album with producer Daniel Lanois, whose M.O. is smoothing out rough edges.

As Young demonstrated Friday, he lives for the rough edges. In “You Never Call,” a haunted death letter blues, he sang “You are in heaven… the ultimate vacation with no back pain and all we do is work.” Ben Keith, Young’s longtime collaborator, died in late July. In January, Young’s longtime videographer L.A. Johnson passed away as well, so it was no surprise that at times the concert seemed like a wake.

“Peaceful Valley” collected images of bison, wagon trains and armed white men, and fast-forwarded to oil, polar bears and global warming. It is another in a long line of time-travel songs. A driving rocker, “Hitchhiker” harnessed the magic of analog sound from Young’s instruments—state of the art circa the late-’50s—for a rambling hard-bitten pharmaceutical travelogue veering from hashish to amphetamine to Valium, and from grass to cocaine to domestic happiness ultimately found. He even steals lyrics from his own “Like an Inca.”

The key to a Neil Young solo gig is variety—not that his songs couldn’t carry the day alone. Over the course of a sprawling set he wisely moved from various acoustic guitars to electrics, and from upright piano to grand piano to pump organ, adding harmonica and effects. It didn’t hurt to have four vintage Fender tweed amplifiers and a wooden Indian onstage just in case. To nick the modern parlance, this is value-added Young.

Sporting a white jacket and fedora, Young opened with the acoustic “Hey Hey, My My,” and also played the sing-alongs “After the Goldrush,” “Old Man” and “Helpless.”

Near the end of the set Young strapped on his old, black Les Paul for “Cortez the Killer,” and became a one-man orchestra—caressing and rapping the guitar strings, playing off his own echo and wanging on the Bigsby vibrato. As if to show contrast, he followed with the high-def blast of “Cinnamon Girl.”

Despite ticket prices that began at $95, the concert sold out. And while Young barely addressed the audience, no one had reason to complain.

Young ended his encore with yet another new song, the eerie “Walk With Me,” which found him again playing off the guitar’s echo. As the song built to a climax Young took it into an extended coda, facing the amps, repeating “walk with me” while swinging the hollow-body guitar like a pendulum, creating an eerie feedback soundscape. As much performance art as rock ’n’ roll, this was spooky Young at his best.

Scottish folk legend Bert Jansch, an influence on Young, opened. Jansch sounded great, at least what could be heard above the yakking fans herding to their seats. You would have thought at least the Nick Drake cultists might have been out in force. Too bad—it seems unlikely Jansch will be back anytime soon.

Photo by CJ Foeckler

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