Neil Young Mines His Past And Hits the Mother Lode

By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 17, 2007

At DAR Constitution Hall on Thursday, Neil Young earned a huge cheer by taking a sip from a beer bottle. A purer sign of the reverence in the room came shortly after his gulp, as Young delivered his burned-in-the-brain gem, "Heart of Gold." The audience did not sing along.

The fans had come to hear Neil Young sing Neil Young songs. He had upset a portion of his base during a previous local stop as a headliner, in 2003 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, by devoting almost an entire evening to "Greendale," a then-unknown and still unsatisfying folk-rock opera about . . . well, who knows?

Young still isn't ready to surrender to fans' nostalgic desires. When one bozo in the upper bowl screamed for "Old Man" during the opening, solo acoustic portion of the two-set, nearly 2 1/2 -hour show, Young feigned having his feelings hurt and mumbled, "Who you callin' that?" He didn't play the song.

He did, however, perform several cuts (among them "Dirty Old Man") from "Chrome Dreams II," a CD released last month, and at least one unreleased number, "Try," that was so obscure that Young, 62 years old this week, admitted he forgot the words.

But, as with his offering up "Heart of Gold," there were also several occasions when he turned to the older, familiar pages of his songbook. Young played synthesizer and a grand piano for "A Man Needs a Maid," which, like so many of his great early-1970s work, was simultaneously psychedelic and folksy, and provided a primer on how to retain hard-rocker credibility even during excursions into wimp-rock territory.

Young got down and dirty for the latter portions of the show, when he was joined by a band (led by longtime drummer Ralph Molina) and plugged in Old Black, his vintage Les Paul. During the electric portion, the title of each song was displayed on a large painted canvas to Young's left. He also positioned a painter at the back of the stage who worked on a new canvas throughout the set. Young's jam on the new "No Hidden Path" was so long that the artist would have had enough time to put a second coat on the Sistine Chapel. Director Jonathan Demme and a camera crew lurked around the stage, which was decorated like a movie soundstage. Unlike on the "Greendale" tour, the gimmicks didn't suck the life out of the show.

Young encored with the ever-sweet "Cinnamon Girl," and then a Category 5 rendition of 1977's "Like a Hurricane." At song's end, the storm quieted and Young, in the exact same beautifully fragile warble he had when he wrote the tune, repeated the line about "that perfect feeling when time just slips away." He summed up the night right there.

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