Neil Young as stand-up comedian, political commentator, at Boston gig
Neil Young’s solo concert at Boston’s Boch Center mined his past to comment on the present
Last night, Neil Young’s “Solo 2018” tour brought him back to Boston’s Boch (Wang) Center for the 13th time. Young first appeared there in 1971 as a solo artist, fresh from his initial stint with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, when the venue was called the Music Hall. In more ways than one, it felt as if time – to quote a phrase – did not fade away.
Back at his 1971 Boston appearance, Young aborted his first song and threatened to end the show if the audience didn’t behave. He still has this problem with some of his so-called fans, but at least now they’re being shushed by their neighbors. On Wednesday, Young was hysterically funny for most of the night, using his arrid sense of humor to control the crowd, and keep interruptions to a minimum.
The evening felt like Young’s version of “Springsteen on Broadway,” as he often reminisced between songs, in a masterfully subtle way, about friends, family, and the history of his musical instruments.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Young still sounds almost exactly as he did in 1971. In fact, he used his catalogue, much of it from his peak commercial years in the early 1970s, to comment on the world today. After holding the crowd in the palms of his hands with his opening set of acoustic classics, including “On the Way Home” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” Young strapped on an electric guitar and discussed how he was inspired to document the 1970 Kent State shootings in his song, “Ohio,” before blasting away the nostalgia, wordlessly commenting on our current political situation.
The center section of the show featured Young playing six songs on four different keyboards. It was expected for Young to sing, “We’ve got Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century,” during “After the Gold Rush,” but he also changed the lyrics to one of his well-known compositions to “Are you ready for THIS country, because it’s time to go,” recontextualizing it as a call to arms. Another issue, the current drug crisis, was referenced in the three songs from “Tonight’s the Night,” recently revisited and released as an archival live album, and the mournful “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
A trilogy of relatively recent songs – “Angry World,” “Love and War,” and “Peaceful Valley Boulevard” – sounded like as much of a wake as “Tonight’s the Night,” this time for everything Young’s generation fought for and won, now facing extinction.
The set ended with Young’s biggest hit, “Heart of Gold.” Yes, he’s getting old, but he’s still searching. After a couple of major health scares, Young has spent more than a decade following his muse, record sales be damned.
Not since the early solo career of John Lennon has an artist of this stature taken so many chances in so many formats with little regard for critics, fans, or chart success. Except maybe for a younger Neil Young.
When he returned for an encore, Young played a ukulele on “Tumbleweed,” a relatively obscure song recently used in his film, “Paradox.” It felt like a benediction. He sang about finding light in darkness, building again, and that the “inner spirit is a peace sign …”
Young addressed a lot of heavy issues on Wednesday night. But did anybody hear them?