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July 14, 2023

It’s good to remind ourselves we live in a world where Neil Young thrives. At 77 it’s not a matter of raging into that good night, he’s never gone quietly and never will, though despite the volume, he always finds the eye of the hurricane. 

This tour feels personal. I mean living room personal, hanging out personal. Young puttering about the stage, taking his time, sharing tales of cherished instruments. Not calculated, not completely spontaneous, but no curtain. Those lucky enough to catch one of the opening run of shows in Los Angeles for his current west coast solo tour got a whole lotta musical love with their ticket. Even for the most dedicated Neilphile, the set list went way deep, favoring rarities and pared down arrangements of full throttle songs, while sprinkling in nuggets of beloved tunes. 

The tour kicked off with four shows at the 1,200 seat Ford Amphitheatre, a nearly century old venue that is the very little brother of the Hollywood Bowl just across the 101. It’s a stunningly intimate venue with no seat further than 95 feet from the stage. A week later he played two nights at the Greek Theater a few miles away with a more size appropriate capacity of close to 6K, and I was able to get to a show at each venue.

I was wondering if some of the intimacy of the Ford shows would be lost at the Greek, and not only was that not the case, but in some ways the drama of the moment was even more impactful. Young has been opening these shows with a 12-string rendition of “I’m the Ocean” from “Mirror Ball”, his 1995 collaboration with Pearl Jam. The insistent barrage of the original recording laid bare felt kinda poignant. Young is the reason I still own vinyl. I was a tike when Buffalo Springfield was on the platter in my brother’s room, and “Mr. Soul” and “On My Way Home” were my gateway songs to his work, the latter was played at both shows and I am not ashamed to say I was wistful from the get go (“When the dream came/I held my breath with my eyes closed…”). Young was chatty and engaging, but especially at the Greek. He’s been taking on mellower tunes from noisier Crazy Horse albums like “Sleeps With Angels” (“My Heart”) and “Ragged Glory” (“Days That Used to Be”, “Mother Earth”) moving from guitar, to a beat up grand, to an even more beat up upright, to a pump organ so dramatically lit, it felt like some kind of musical altar. Mid-set at the Greek, he moved to that pump organ, remarking “seems like I missed a song,” the crowd shouting back their requests, with Young responding “you’d never think of this one, anyway” then launched into the aforementioned “Mr. Soul” as a goth-blues lament. A highlight of both shows was “When I Hold You in My Arms” from his RnB influenced “Are You Passionate”, but stripped to a raw tenderness not revealed on the record (which I probably haven’t given a proper listen to since its 2002 release). At the Greek, Young told the sold out crowd “that four used to be a big number, now it’s just a fraction” before picking up his white electric Gretsch for “Ohio”. Those opening chords, the chunky string attack, his voice, sending chills to the top row. He also busted out ol’ black, his ’59 Les Paul, for “Vampire Blues” (from “On the Beach”) and a “Rockin’ In the Free World” encore at the Ford, as if any exclamation point was needed. “Comes a Time” (the song and the album) is a personal favorite from the Neil Young oeuvre, and to hear that at the Greek between “Ohio” and the “Heart of Gold” set closer was also pretty magical.  












In this AI Tik-Tok of a moment where extremes pass as just another day, there are few musicians that stand out as unadulteratedly themselves as Neil Young. In that spirit, the pairing of Chris Pierce as the tour opener for Neil is all kinds of right. While love conquers all and nature always wins have been constant themes throughout Young’s career, Chris Pierce sings in your face of intolerance and social injustice. His songs are sharp arrows to the soul, straight and true, and emotionally delivered, particularly “American Silence”, the title track of his last release, “Chain Gang 4th of July” and “Tulsa Town”, all covered in his 30-minute opening sets at the shows I attended. 

This tour is special. And, as this world keeps spinning round, wobblier then ever, there indeed comes a time, a tour and a moment that is true. May Neil Young continue to thrive.











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