Review: Neil Young at the Meyerson

Posted 12:05am on Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Neil Young, seated on stage at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center Thursday, selected his acoustic guitar from those arrayed around him.

And as he plugged it in, the 68-year-old Toronto native was in the process of relaying a story of its origin.

This particular instrument, Young seemed to recall, had been purchased at some small shop in Nashville —

Suddenly, the voice shot out of the darkness: “Play it! Play it!”

Young stopped in his tracks.

“Don’t push me,” he snapped, a deadpan reaction delivered like an offhand threat. “It doesn’t work.”

Intentionally or not, the moment deftly summed up how Young has conducted his entire career — proceeding at his own pace, on his own terms, and if you don’t like it, well, there’s the door.

A small cheer from the near-capacity crowd broke out at the end of the exchange, and Young moved from verbally backhanding hecklers to performing Harvest Moon, one of several classics he rendered Thursday, the opening evening of his two-night stand at the Meyerson, a venue he first visited four years ago and will perform in again Friday. (“I like this place,” Young said, late in the evening as he glanced around the stately room. “I might try to get a job here.”)

Opening with From Hank to Hendrix, from 1992’s Harvest Moon, Young traversed his iconic catalog over the course of the roughly two-hour show as easily as he moved between his small army of guitars, to a grand piano (which had an electronic keyboard situated atop it), to an upright piano and to a small organ. Apart from the traveling music store surrounding him, the only other adornment on stage was a cigar store Indian, with whom he frequently seemed to consult during his perambulations.

The night was split in two by a 25-minute intermission, and the first half featured a far more chatty Young, who before playing Phil Ochs’ Changes, shared a stemwinding anecdote about the late Pete Seeger (whom Young described as a “spindly giant”). Young doled out a sparkling take on fellow countryman Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind in the second half, but otherwise kept to his own material, offering up the more recent ( Someday; From Hank to Hendrix) alongside the durable standards ( After the Gold Rush; Pocahontas; Heart of Gold; Old Man).

In fine voice throughout and wielding his instruments with practiced skill, Young made the decades melt away as deftly as he made his two-hour set feel like the blink of an eye.

Watching him disappear into the rapidly changing swirls of light pooling on the Meyerson stage — as he sang the (sadly still relevant) protest song Ohio, Young was bathed in blood-red light — and beholding him as he wandered from piano to guitar and back again, it was striking to see him, perhaps without even trying, shattering the idea of what a concert from a performer of his stature should or could be.

Most artists at this stage of the game are content to knock out the hits the people are paying to see, but Young wasn’t interested in following familiar contours (see also: hecklers, the dispatching thereof) or catering to a crowd that, while largely respectful and appreciative, seemed to save its loudest cheers for the most well-known songs.

If the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was at all bothered by it, he hid it well. (“We’re winding up to my big hit,” he cracked, prior to Heart of Gold. “It’s been good to me; hope it’s good to you.”)

However the remainder of his career plays out, Young likely takes far more satisfaction from never having felt as though he’s compromised his art or himself, all for a little extra applause or a few more dollars here and there.

It’s how some play the game — whether they want to or not — but he’s survived, and thrived, by effectively confounding conventional wisdom at nearly every turn.

Like the man said, you can’t push Neil Young — it doesn’t work.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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