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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Neil Young keeps rockin' in the free world

By Sam Robertson

Despite being just days shy of his 62nd birthday, Neil Young proved that age is nothing more than a number at his concert last Thursday. Throughout his forty-year career, Young has been known as a musician with two distinct styles. There’s the melancholy troubadour armed with an acoustic guitar and harmonica that we saw during the first half of the show. And then there’s Neil Young and Crazy Horse, where Young is armed with an electric guitar and backed by 3 equally loud musicians resulting in an onslaught of rock and roll noise. Thursday night, we got to see the best of both worlds, as Young did an acoustic set followed by an electric one. But before Young could bring us into his acoustic and electric worlds, he had to introduce us to his family world as his wife, Pegi Young, opened the show. Since the days of Yoko Ono and The Beatles, wives and rock music have been a bad combination. Unlike Yoko, Pegi hasn’t broken up Neil Young’s band, but her background vocals didn’t add anything either and she was barely noticeable during the performance. It was harder to ignore her during her own set. Her voice wasn’t terrible and the music was somewhat enjoyable but wasn’t the least bit memorable or special. Overall, her set was a mediocre but unnecessary performance that just made us more anxious for Young’s set.

Young opened the concert singing “Here I am with this old guitar doin’ what I do” from his underrated song “From Hank to Hendrix” and that seemed to describe the first set pretty accurately. The first set was Neil Young doing what he does best – gently strumming on his acoustic guitar and singing in his familiar, peaceful voice.

Young is officially touring to promote his new album, “Chrome Dreams II,” and although the concert featured some new material, he wasn’t shy about dipping into his well of old classics. In fact, during the acoustic set, Young didn’t play a single new song but instead focused on a mix of famous old songs and hidden gems that only the dedicated fan could recognize. Following “From Hank to Hendrix” was “Ambulance Blues,” the closing track from Young’s masterpiece 1975 album, “On the Beach.” “Ambulance Blues” is one of Young’s most requested and rarest songs in concert, and hearing it was such a treat that it alone made the exorbitant ticket prices worth it.

As the set went on, Young played some more obscure songs and started to mix in more familiar tunes. He seemed to be exploring his early ’70s period as he performed “A Man Needs a Maid,” “Harvest,” “After the Goldrush,” “Mellow My Mind,” and “Heart of Gold” from that era. As “Heart of Gold” is probably the most famous song of Young’s career, it received the most enthusiastic response from a surprisingly mellow crowd.

Fortunately the crowd – and young himself – raised their enthusiasm during the second set. After a short break, Young returned to the stage backed by drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Rick Rosas, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Keith. Right away the band launched into a loud, raucous performance of “The Loner,” which is the first song from Young’s first solo album, exactly forty years old. It was a treat to hear Young bring back such an old song, and even more of a treat to see that the song hasn’t lost anything over the years. Young defied his age as he foot-stamped his way across the stage delivering loud guitar riffs and solos. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of old songs Young played as “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” and “Winterlong” were all played during the set as well. All of those songs date back from 1970 or earlier and the last two can be considered obscure, old chestnuts that I never dreamed I would hear Neil Young play live.

Besides the wonderful old songs, Young performed four songs from his new album. “Dirty Old Man” and “Spirit Road” were significantly better live, and Young performed them with an intensity that was missing from the studio versions. “The Believer” was somewhat painful to listen to and without a doubt the worst song of the night, but he made up for it with another new song, “No Hidden Path.” “No Hidden Path” ended the set and was one of the best songs of the night, lasting around fifteen minutes long and full of Young’s trademark feedback-laden guitar solos. After that epic performance, Young returned for an encore of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Like a Hurricane,” two of his most popular and greatest songs. Despite setting a high standard during the first two sets, Young still managed to blow away my expectations during the encore and I felt like I was being transported back in time to 1978.

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