Contributed By: Alex Wood
Neil Young performed a perfectly balanced, career-spanning set during his second night at Chicago Theater.
Though the set list hardly differed from the previous evening, it was designed with such fluidity that changing wasn’t strictly necessary.
The first set felt deliberately somber in tone, purveying a deep melancholy that only Neil Young has truly mastered.
“From Hank To Hendrix” was an appropriate opener and crowd-pleaser, the lyrics a weary tale of Young’s musical past. Buffalo Springfield’s “On The Way Home” followed, the song’s solemn tone and poetic lyrics sounding timeless as ever while Young’s passionate performance established the singer as his old, heartbroken self.
Young often performed in the center of a circle of instruments, six guitars and a banjo in total, while a grand piano, organ, upright piano and two more guitars sat elsewhere on stage. A microphone attached to his harmonica holder allowed him to wander the stage while singing or addressing the crowd, never tied to a single spot.
“Philadelphia,” recorded for the Jonathan Demme movie of the same name in 1993, came as a welcome surprise, performed on the grand piano. “Love In Mind” followed with passionate force, Young swaying back and forth on the piano bench as though to convey the hurt captured in the lyrics.
Finally addressing the ecstatic (and often unnecessarily noisy) audience, Young jokingly inquired, “how ya’ sleeping?” before mentioning the Blackhawks having won the previous night, predictably garnering huge applause.
A highlight of the first set was the unexpected “Someday,” performed on upright piano, followed by an excellent acoustic cover of Phil Ochs’s “Changes.”
The crowd erupted into enormous applause for back-to-back classics “Harvest” and “Old Man,” ending the set with intensity.
The second set felt less melancholy, allowing Young to showcase a few of his more epic compositions, beginning with “Cortez The Killer.”
Young then returned to his beatnik-style poem introduced the previous night.
“Tonight, I have the whole thing. It’s called ‘Hello, Chicago’” Young said. “A friend of mine told me to say hello to Chicago.”
Young followed with roughly a minute of simple poetry, difficult to fully appreciate after classics like “Cortez” and “Harvest” but interesting to see. If nothing else, the decision to write a poem for the Chicago dates shows that Young’s creative spirit never ended, and probably never will.
“Pocahontas” followed to roaring applause, Young discussing Marlon Brando’s 1972 Oscar win for The Godfather where the actor sent an “Indian maiden” to deliver a speech about the state of Native American communities at the time.
“Marlon, we could use you again,” Young said.
Jarring electronic keyboard noises marked the beginning of “A Man Needs A Maid,” Young striking a deep bass note throughout the song to hold down the lower register.
“Ohio” was performed acoustic to a thrilled audience, the set seeming to continually build up energy. “Southern Man” was delivered with soulful vocals, Young’s voice breaking as he yelled, “I’ve heard screaming and bullwhips cracking.”
Young finally used the pump-organ for “Mr. Soul,” both his feet frantically working the pedals as he banged on the old instrument’s keys.
Prior to “After The Gold Rush,” Young delivered a long speech about supermarkets not selling water when he was young. “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century,” he sang, the lyrics fitting for the Earth Day performance.
“Heart Of Gold” closed the set successfully as an upbeat crowd-pleaser, though the encores that followed stood out as less predictable choices.
The opening chords of “Comes A Time” were met by cheers from the audience, many singing along with the chorus.
As Young sang, “It’s a wonder tall trees ain’t laying down,” I found it strange to watch a musician so consistently concerned with mortality finally growing old but never losing the passionate sorrow he has specialized in since the 60s.
As though reading my mind, Young ended the show with “Long May You Run,” its lyrics an optimistic view of time’s passing and a reminder that Neil Young is still going strong as ever, an impressive feat for a 68 year old with his pastime and, frankly, a fact deserving of all the gratitude his enthusiastic fan base offers.
“We’ve been through some things together
With trunks of memories still to come
We found things to do in stormy weather
Long may you run.”
Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014
From Hank to Hendrix
On The Way Home
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Love In Mind (grand piano)
Mellow My Mind (banjo… really a guitar, Neil can't play banjo)
Reason To Believe (piano)
Changes (Phil Ochs)
Cortez the Killer
Hello Chicago (Beatnik Poem In Full)
A Man Needs a Maid (synth + grand piano)
Mr. Soul (organ)
If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)
After the Gold Rush (piano)
Heart Of Gold
Comes A Time
Long May You Run