Neil Young launched the second leg of his solo tour Sunday night at Oakland’s 1920s-era Fox Theater, peforming hits from his 40-year-plus discography and unreleased tunes from Twisted Road, his upcoming release with producer Daniel Lanois (Bob Dylan, U2).
Young took the stage dressed in a white fedora and jacket, worn jeans, and a Willie Nelson t-shirt that read, “The IRS Tapes 1-800-652-3400,” and dove into an 85-minute set that was relatively intimate. Young, who easily sells out arenas, played to 2,800 seated fans, on a stagedecorated with vintage Hollywood stage lights and a Native American totem pole. During the course of 17 songs, Young switched between acoustic guitar (“Tell Me Why”), pump organ (“After the Gold Rush”), a grand piano (“I Believe In You”), and his trusty ol’ Les Paul (“Old Black”).
The sprawling electric guitar epics of Young’s catalogue don’t exactly lend themselves to solo performance, but he played them anyway and the fans approved: “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Cortez the Killer,” and “Down By the River” all received standing ovations. A t-shirt for sale in the lobby humorously addressed the situation: “I Said Solo… They Said Acoustic.”
The musical grit and lyrical probing of “Ohio” and “Cinnamon Girl” reminded listeners of Young’s singular power as a singer-songwriter.
The seven new tracks Young played were consistently strong, a welcome reminder of his relevance after his disappointing release Fork in the Road. The light-hearted piano ballad “Leia” was written for the daughter of a family friend or, as Young put it, “a little friend of mine.”
He also played what he called “heavy fare.” The anti-war lyrics to “Love and War” had the audience lightly head-banging against the status quo. And “After the Gold Rush” got an updated lyric in the wake of the BP disaster: “We got Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century,” he sang.
Another newbie, “Hitchhiker,” was a poignant ballad that followed Young’s life from Toronto, documenting the drugs he’s ingested and his misfires with love. But the crown jewel of the new material was “You Never Call,” which features a dialogue between a lover and his departed loved one, who’s in heaven and free from pain. The song was likely addressed to his first wife, actress Carrie Snodgress, who died in 2004 while awaiting a liver transplant.
Most of these unreleased tracks have been leaked onto YouTube in live form, but if you plan on seeing Young on this tour do yourself a favor: keep them a surprise. You won’t be disappointed.
Neil Young’s setlist:
1. “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)”
2. “Tell Me Why”
4. “You Never Call” (new song)
5. “Peaceful Valley” (new song)
6. “Love and War” (new song)
7. “Down By the River”
8. “Hitchhiker” (new song)
10. Sign of Love” (new song)
11. “Leia” (new song)
12. “After the Gold Rush”
13. “I Believe In You”
15. “Cortez the Killer”
16. “Cinnamon Girl”
17. “Walk With Me”(new song)