Review | Neil Young | Boston
Neil Young :: 10.6.14 :: Wang Theatre :: Boston, MA
Neil Young’s second of two nights at Boston’s Wang Center was one of those special musical moments that leaves you feeling both fortunate and grateful to have experienced for yourself. Surrounded by an inner ring of guitars and an outer perimeter of pianos, Young spent two sets moseying through his decades-long catalog of iconic material entirely on his own.
The Wang Center is single-handedly the most beautiful, acoustically impeccable venue in all of greater New England and as soon as Young walked out on stage, his audience erupted with approval that Young responded to with the appreciation of a guy who knows how big of a deal he is.
The Northern Californian from Ontario doesn’t vary his set lists all that much, so anyone who checked online before the show would have known to expect him to open with “From Hank to Hendrix.” Buffalo Springfield’s “On the Way Home” followed before “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” got the audience singing along for the first time of the evening.
As an electric guitarist, Young has established a unique, feedback-laden tone that is instantly recognizable. His last tour alongside Crazy Horse showed that side of his playing off, but this time around, he kept the overdriven tube amps at home. His playing is not as uniquely defined on acoustic guitar as electric, but the accompanying harmonica work proved to be the most well-defined instrumental tone in his entire arsenal. All it takes is a single note blown through the blues harp and you’ll know Neil Young is playing it.
Young’s vocals had been gentle and low key throughout the evening. That changed when he closed the first set with “Old Man,” when he put the howl into the microphone that he’s known for. Plenty of his contemporaries have seen their vocal skills deteriorate over time (looking at you, Dylan), but fortunately for Young, he sounded like a crotchety old man in his 20’s so his pipes sounded just as good in Boston as they did on decades old studio recordings.
In light of Young’s confrontational history with audience members that he finds rude, the lyric: “Doesn’t mean that much to me, to mean that much to you,” felt painfully honest to hear as a fan. That said, folks in the crowd who yelled and hollered while he told stories about each song were let off the hook…this time.
“Pocahontas” from Rust Never Sleeps inaugurated the second set. The lyrics were modernized by swapping out Marlon Brando with the President for a refrain of “Barack Obama, Pocahontas and me.” After acknowledging the significance of our country electing an African-American president, Young then went on to express his disappointment in #44’s environmental track record, pointing out the promises he made early on and his track records of making favorable deals with the energy sector at the expense of Mother Earth.
The second set was loaded with fan-favorites like “Southern Man,” “Heart of Gold,” and “After The Gold Rush,” but for a guy with a back-catalog full of politically charged material, “Ohio” felt the most current. In light of the images we’ve seen coming out of the Ferguson, Missouri, “Ohio” was a tragic reminder of the progress our society has failed to make when it comes to answering civic unrest with weapons of war.
Over the past 40+ years, Young has built a powerful legacy of innovation. When it comes to putting out records, he regularly swings and misses (2014’s A Letter Home, anyone?), but he can always be counted on to try something new. He struck gold with Harvest and After the Gold Rush, and flopped with electro-rockabilly records, 20-minute tracks of distorted feedback and some material that has simply felt half assed. Even though “the new Neil Young album,” is always capable of being a flop, the fact that it has the potential to change the musical landscape is why his new material always matters.
Night Two at the Wang Center featured covers, early material and songs that haven’t even been released yet, and in reviewing the spectrum of content, it’s hard not to appreciate how much heart-stopping, life-changing material the Godfather of Grunge has given the world. Leave it to Neil Young to remind you how powerful one man with a flannel shirt and an acoustic guitar can be.
Watch fan-shot video of one of the new songs Neil debuted in Boston: