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Concert Reviews:
Neil Young Visits Past, Future At The Palace

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Monday, December 8, 2008

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AUBURN HILLS -- During one of several brand new songs he played Sunday night (Dec. 7) at the Palace, Neil Young declared that "just singing the song won't change the world."

It can, however, make the part where Young is singing at any give moment,a better place.

That was certainly the case at the Palace, where Young and his exceptional Electric Band churned out a generous and energized two-hour and 15-minute show that made it well worth any overtime the boomer-heavy crowd had to pay babysitters. It was his second area performance in 13 months -- following a November 2007 concert at Detroit's Fox Theatre -- and commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Canadian-born singer-songwriter's solo career with a broad swipe through his repertoire and a more than passing nod to the future.

Young came out the gunslinger, with "Love and Only Love" setting both a lyrical and instrumental tone as he crouched low over his black Les Paul, playing guitar solos like spraying so much electric buckshot around the stage. And after making highly critical remarks of the Detroit auto industry, Young -- who was briefly signed to Motown in the mid-'60s with his band the Mynah Birds -- appeared anxious to affirm his ultimate solidarity; in "Hey Hey, My My" (Into the Black)" he changed the lyric to "Detroit City will never die," and he also shouted "Motor City!" repeatedly during "Rockin' in the Free World."

Throughout the rest of the show Young pulled out favorites from both his stockpiles of electric hard rock ("Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," "Powderfinger," "Cortez the Killer," "Cinnamon Girl," "Cowgirl in the Sand") and mellower country/folk ("Oh Lonesome Me," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Heart of Gold," Old Man"). He performed the environmental paean "Mother Earth" on pump organ, and after he accidentally grabbed the wrong harmonica for "Unknown Legend" Young decided to reprise the song -- " 'Cause you guys paid the big bucks!" -- from the solo through to its end.

The six-song batch of new material, meanwhile, lent a fresh edge to the show, even if playing four of them consecutively during the late part of the show cost him some of the crowd's focus. The tunes -- "Spirit Road," "Light a Candle," "Just Singing a Song," "Sea Change, "Fuel Line" and "When Worlds Collide" -- found Young in a mostly hopeful, post-Obama election mood, singing about a "transformation of civilization" but also cautioning against complacency and encouraging a continued level of engagement.

That was a heady message for a big arena rock show, but entirely in character for someone who's long reveled in the opportunity to both challenge and entertain his audience. Young certainly closed the show on that note, too, encoring with a version of the Beatles' studio opus "A Day in the Life" that had the kind of winking, "for the heck of it" feel that went out on the kind of limb few "classic" rockers care to tread late in their careers.

Ironically, special guest Wilco, which has staked its reputation on chance-taking both on stage and in the studio, played it surprisingly straight during its 50-minute portion of Sunday's. Following a politely received opening set by Everest, the Chicago-based sextet eschewed expansive and occasionally dissonant arrangements in favor of versions of songs such as "You Are My Face," "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Handshake Drugs," the soulful "Jesus, Etc,," "Impossible Germany" and "I'm the Man Who Loves You" that hewed closely to their recorded takes.

That doesn't mean Wilco lacked anything, however. The general strength of the performances and of the songs themselves aptly conveyed the group's tuneful but idiosyncratic approach -- which Wilco shares with Neil Young -- and also likely won over any of Young's fans who weren't already familiar with it.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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