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Neil Young reviewed

Rob Haynes finds Neil Young effortlessly comfortable with the role of eccentric genius at Manchester Apollo

Published on March 12th 2008.

Neil Young reviewed

Preceding this gig, one of the main things exercising the mind was the potentially unforgiveable £65 ticket price (bumped up to over £70 by the Al Capone-ish ‘booking fee’). Thus, with a mind towards value for money your reviewer is seated from the very opening, where Young’s wife Pegi performs a set of pleasant if inessential country rock which is nevertheless generously received.

Playing 1969’s legendary ‘Down By The River’, he indulges himself in a guitar solo in which a visit to the bar and a leisurely stroll to the toilet can be comfortably accommodated.

The stage is littered with eccentric debris – illuminated lettering, an easel, an actual artist painting child-like illustrations which will later be used to introduce each song, an old-fashioned Indian storefront mannequin. What passes, in other words, for ‘stage design’ in Neil Young’s idiosyncratic world.

The house lights dim, the painter ambles on stage carrying a large canvas adorned simply by the letter ‘N’, which is removed to reveal Young himself in a rumpled white suit. Other performers may choose smoke bombs or hydraulic risers to make an entrance, but that wouldn’t be very Neil.

Sitting down amidst a range of guitars Young picks one up and begins ‘From Hank to Hendrix’ (“here I am with this guitar / doing what I do”). By the pole-axing melancholia of second song ‘Ambulance Blues’ the ticket price is suddenly seeming quite reasonable after all.

Between songs Young looks around him with the vague distraction of a man who has misplaced a set of keys, settling apparently at random at the grand piano to casually knock out ‘Stringman’, picking up a banjo for an odd but no less affecting ‘Mellow My Mind’, back to the acoustic guitars for a succession of classics – ‘Harvest’, a celestial ‘Helpless’ – and now the ticket price is a bargain, a steal. Assorted middle-aged audience members are making fools of themselves, yelling out ‘go on Neil’ as one would normally urge on Rick Hatton, but the incontinent emotion is understandable.

Re-emerging after a half hour interval in a paint-spattered black suit and with full backing band, Young launches a bludgeoning version of ‘Mr Soul’, transformed from its somewhat twee origins into something more akin to Motorhead. The ratcheted-up wattage sacrifices none of the power to tingle spines. Playing 1969’s legendary ‘Down By The River’, he indulges himself in a guitar solo in which a visit to the bar and a leisurely stroll to the toilet can be comfortably accommodated. In other hands this would usually be a cause for a small death of the soul, but in Young’s it is as though the audience’s collective astral body is being taken for a flight in the sun-soaked California sky. He lurches around the stage as if pursuing electricity itself, and the thought that this a man in his 60s recovering from a brain aneurysm just makes the spectacle all the more stunning.

The only quibble arrives when the evening exits in a whimper rather than a bang – ‘No Hidden Path’ from latest album Chrome Dreams 2 wends its way from regulation stomp to dwindling acapella chorused vocals. Haunting yes, but it leaves a sense of diminished emotional currency only exacerbated by the peculiar choice of ‘Roll Another Number’ for the sole encore, an unexceptional, straightforward slice of barroom blues from 1975 which makes the absence of, say, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ or ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ the more potently felt. But that’s Neil Young. Mystifying, bewitching, infuriating, spine-tingling, overpriced – and yet a bargain.

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AnonymousMarch 12th 2008.

This review is pretty much spot on as far as I was concerned especially the point about No Hidden Path and Roll another number ( Not before I get off Hyde Road ! ) My wife thought that £65 was a lot too until I pointed out that a visit to Old Trafford to watch Reading was not too far off that price.You missed out the bargain booze at the Apollo , £3.80 for a plastic bottleof Carling that probably costs 40p wholesale ! and the follow on from that , later in the show streams of goons who had allowed themselves to donate far too much of their money to the "Carlsberg/Apollo" pension fund constantly traipsing to the bog.All in all fantastic night though and the Apollo was so much better than the aircraft hanger MEN arena.

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