Neil Young – Paramount Theatre (Seattle, WA)
Going through the motions in style might best describe Neil Young’s solo performance at the Paramount, the first U.S. date of a two-month theater tour. Extremely high ticket prices ($80 for a seat halfway back on the main floor) only helped to foster high expectations for the show which, while it didn’t exactly disappoint, came off surprisingly slight given the intimate setting and the appealing set list.
The stage was impressively set (and lit) with an upright piano stage right, a grand piano stage left, a pump organ to the back, and an arc of eight guitars (including one originally owned by Hank Williams) at center stage. Young, perched in the middle of his instruments, opened with “Tell Me Why”, and positively breezed through “Looking Forward” and “War Of Man” before walking to the upright for a beautiful rendition of “Out Of Control”. The last, and the other keyboard songs of the night — “See The Sky About To Rain” and the nearly forgotten “Philadelphia”, both played on the grand, and “After The Gold Rush”, on pump organ — easily were the show’s highlights. “See The Sky” struck an especially tender chord; Young seemed more focused and involved in material he played on piano and organ. Conversely, songs such as “Pocahontas”, “World On A String” and “Unknown Legend”, all performed on guitar, came off somewhat perfunctory.
Young ended the very brief (less than an hour) first set with a spirited reading of “Homegrown” (which he humorously introduced as a marijuana song that somehow evolved into an anthem for organic farming) and the as-yet-unreleased “Daddy Went Walkin'”. The second set began auspiciously with a rare “Last Trip To Tulsa”, though Young lost his way in the lyrics. A funny story about losing and finding his dog Elvis prefaced “Old King”, but from there the set again began to slip by too quickly as Young visited “Distant Camera”, “Harvest Moon” and “Slowpoke” in quick succession. The aforementioned “See The Sky About To Rain” and “After The Gold Rush” ended things on a high note, though probably few fans expected Young to leave stage when he did. He returned for the pleasant and appropriate “Good To See You”, banged out a respectable “Sugar Mountain”, and that was that.
Walking out of the Paramount, I was reminded of the sports cliche of a team not playing to win but playing not to lose. Any number of Crazy Horse shows and Bridge School concerts this decade have shown Young can and will still play his heart out. On this night, however, he seemed satisfied to let the songs themselves do the work, not necessarily his performances.