Exhilarating as ever, Neil Young transforms the Academy of Music

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Neil Young | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com
Neil Young | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Neil Young transformed the splendor of the Academy of Music into a lively space of reminiscing and activism for his first of two sold out solo nights on Wednesday. The passion, the voice and the sound of Young at 68 is an exhilarating spectacle for the ears and the mind. And for two and a half hours, the Philadelphia crowd was in musical ecstasy.

Opening with the inquisitive desire to keep it together musically and interpersonally with “From Hank to Hendrix,” and extending to the encore song “Thrasher” and its examination of parting ways with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Young was putting his past under the microscope. And then there was love or its loss on songs like “On the Way Home” and “A Man Needs a Maid,” among others. Young, who would change position for songs frequently from sitting, surrounded by an army of guitars, playing at one of three pianos or organs or ripping at his guitar standing up, was opening his songbook of feelings and experiences for all to drink in, enjoy and engage with.

And Philadelphia did not disappoint with engagement. Despite the venue’s grandeur, fans called out throughout the performance. Whether it be requests, admiration or responses to songs, Young did not dissuade the interactive vibe. This was most telling during a moment after “Southern Man” when Young was ranting about the evils of government deals for fracking and the profits of oil companies. A woman shouted out the question of “what should we do about this?”

Neil Young | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com
Neil Young | Photo by Chris Sikich | countfeed.tumblr.com

Young sidestepped a direct answer for one of his new works, “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?” Directly about fossil fuel consumption and environmental destruction, Young struck a fire beneath what could easily have been a jaded crowd. At the end he angrily kept repeating the song’s title while picking away. Much of the crowd jumped to its feet and was cheering him and the idea on. It was one of the most exhilarating live moments I have ever experienced, and this venue with a storied existence seemed to be, even if fleetingly, ground zero for change.

The classics sizzled. “Heart of Gold” washed over the soul with Young’s brittle voice caressing its syllables. “A Man Needs a Maid” had an epic bite and a modern edge with its electronic organ moments interspersed among its classic haunting nature. “After the Gold Rush” was simply sublime. And the new songs and covers were scorchers. From “I’m Glad I Found You,” a gorgeous song he did on piano, to his brilliant cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” the unfamiliar immediately gained a deserved timeless sheen.

Young’s banter was welcome. From his ruminations on the high amounts of pesticides used in cotton (which he correlated to his desire for the crowd to buy his organic t-shirts) to the great loss of species in recent times, it was as if we were in his living room (and an eclectic one at that with a totem pole, furs and a gigantic tomahawk) listening to the records of his life and discussing his hopes and fears for the future. And he even dropped in the impossibility of any future CSNY tours.

What more can be said about a perfect night of music? Neil Young is a one-of-a-kind experience who should be seen at least once. You get another chance tonight and hopefully many more to come in his future.

Setlist

Set 1:
From Hank to Hendrix
On the Way Home
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
I’m Glad I Found You
Mellow My Mind
Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin)
Someday
If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot)
Harvest
Old Man

Set 2:
Pocahontes
Heart of Gold
Plastic Flowers
A Man Needs a Maid
Ohio
Southern Man
Who’s Gonna Stand Up?
Mother Earth
Trace My Tears
Harvest Moon
After the Gold Rush

Encore:
Thrasher

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11 Responses to “Exhilarating as ever, Neil Young transforms the Academy of Music”

  1. LAOL

    Great review of what appears to have been a wonderful evening with a passionate artist. Would have loved to have been there, looking forward to the upcoming Bridge School Benefit concerts.
    Peace, love and harmony.

  2. jb

    This sounds like an amazing show and setlist. I really really wish I could afford him.

  3. Mary kate

    Going tonight, can’t wait!! Have seen Neil many times. He is one of my absolute favorites!!!

  4. Mike

    Heading there tonight! Looks like we’re in for a treat.
    Does anyone no if there’s an opening act or is Neil on at 8pm.

  5. Rodger Van Der Wobble

    Send him back to Ireland, just one last time.

  6. Clark

    Concerning Neil Young’s show position on fracking and the woman mentioned in this article that yelled out “What should we do about this?”, I have to agree with the man that followed with the “FRACK THIS!” comment. I really enjoyed this show and Neil’s performance was pristine. However, I have to call out Neil “Hollywood Hypocrite” Young that had THREE huge tour buses parked outside in addition to the 18 wheeled stage trailers. ALL this fossil fuel for a solo acoustic show? And even more pathetic, Neil did not get the message when someone from the audience handled him an advertisement for Kia Motors.

  7. CamReed

    Neil Young has been running his buses and trucks on biodiesel since 2004, even switched companies at the time so it could happen.

    See here: http://www.newciv.org/nl/newslog.php/_v45/__show_article/_a000195-000582.htm

  8. Clark

    According to Rolling Stone (Google it), Neil’s buses are 20% biodiesel and 80% diesel which is the common blend. Three tour buses is a huge carbon footprint for a solo on a small stage. What are the other two for, the guitars? Set an example and impress us with a convoy of KIA’s. Great show in any event.

  9. mikep

    I was there, awesome show.thanks neil for pretty much a polished performance. I saw Ben and his helpers outside while waiting to get into the academy. He was grinning from ear to ear. F racking in colder county florida since summertime. Your right. Mikep

  10. Guest

    Not true. I don’t think you’ll be able to provide a source for what you just said. P.S. Life is short – consider spending more time finding things to love rather than things to hate.

  11. "Bobby"

    Sorry, pal, No such article, no such link. Keep spinning your lies for an early demise.

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