Neil Young | 12.09 | Chicago

Words by: Herschel Concepcion Images by: Norman Sands

Neil Young :: 12.09.08 :: The Allstate Arena :: Chicago, IL

Neil Young
Having never seen Neil Young live before, I was prepared to face the ugly possibility that he might just be another nostalgia act, that the fire has faded and that he's simply milking the faded glory of old success – but as soon as I heard the raw distortion electrifying the air in the Allstate Arena I knew that this is not the case.

Young began his set by launching into "Love and Only Love," a fitting introduction when considering the times we live in: "Love and only love will endure/ Hate is everything you think it is." Being a seeker of truth, I felt I was in the right place, because the truth is one thing that Neil Young is chock full of. It is what's always drawn me to this mysterious figure with the lonesome voice, who, like Dylan, helped to bring more than one generation to its senses with his straight-to-the-heart songwriting.

When I heard the opening riff of "Hey Hey, My My" blasting from the speakers, I felt the rebel spirit rise within me. This is the song I arrived hoping to hear. I look at Young and see a man who has transcended to the highest reaches of musical possibility; a man who exudes passion from every molecule of his being, dominating the stage with an aggressive fervor rarely seen in guys half his age. "Hey hey, my my/ Rock and roll will never die." Amen, brother.

After "Hey Hey, My My," I got a good look at the crowd for the first time and saw a wide range of faces, young and old, and every one of them seemed to be getting something positive out of this experience. They'd been sucked in – that much was clear. There was an older gentleman sitting to my left who offered light from his cell phone as I dug through my bag for my notebook and pen. Not once did his eyes leave the stage.

Neil Young
This night it seemed that Young decided to forego the stubborn artist mentality he's famous for, suppressing the urge to play his more obscure material and instead delivered what the crowd wanted to hear - the classics. Which was fine with me since this was my first time seeing him live. On this tour Young is backed by a solid ensemble of musicians that includes Ben Keith (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, organ, background vocals), Rick Rosas (bass), Chad Cromwell (drums), Anthony Crawford (piano, guitar, bells, background vocals), Larry Cragg (banjo) and his wife Pegi Young (background vocals, vibraphone, piano, guitar). Together they blazed through an intense set of music that touched on every era of Young's broad career. From the rocker "Powderfinger" to the heartbreaking "Needle and the Damage Done," we got to hear it all. "Cinnamon Girl," "Old Man," "Cowgirl in the Sand" – these are songs I've been wanting to see live since I first heard them on vinyl, wish granted.

"Cortez the Killer" is a 16-minute tour de force, played with a ferociously subtle intensity – easily the best version I've heard of this song, live or anywhere else for that matter. Young's vision of the brutal Spanish conquistadors is riveting, and his guitar solos visceral and dripping with emotion. The encore was a great rendition of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," a delightful choice that caught the masses off guard.

Neil Young, to me, is a beacon of light in a sometimes-gray world; a breath of fresh air to those of us who live by our own rules. He knows what it's like to want more. He's tasted the bitter stew of the status quo and spit it right back out. Maybe that's why he's been able to maintain his artistic integrity and, more importantly, continue fanning the flames he ignited so many years ago. He holds a fire that makes people drive through a blizzard, hurricane, tornado or nuclear holocaust just to be close to it.

Neil Young :: 12.09.08 :: Allstate Arena :: Chicago, IL
Love And Only Love, Hey Hey, My My, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Powderfinger, Spirit Road, Cortez the Killer, Cinnamon Girl, Oh, Lonesome Me, Mother Earth, Light a Candle, Needle and the Damage Done, Unknown Legend, Old Man, Get Back to the Country, Just Singing a Song, Sea Change, When Worlds Collide, Fuel Line, Cowgirl in the Sand, Rockin' in the Free World
Encore: A Day in the Life

"Cortez the Killer" :: 12.09.08 :: Chicago, IL

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