Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston

Solo set at Wang Theatre spans various decades

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“One of my first solo shows was in the Wang Theater, then called the Music Hall,” wrote Neil Young on his website in May, talking about his 2018 solo tour that officially ended last night with the second of two dates at the landmark venue in Boston’s Theatre District. “It’s a real beauty folks – a chapel of soul and music. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then and that I do too!” While I wasn’t around when Young played Music Hall in January 1971, I saw him at Wang Theatre on Wednesday night, the first of his two concerts there, and he surely sounded amazing to me!

Wang Theatre
View of Wang Theatre auditorium from stage

Young was right. The venue is pretty impressive. Take a closer look at the above photo, and you can see the rich ornaments and decorative painting. In addition to its looks, he certainly also well remembered the Wang Theatre’s acoustic, which was great.

While it must be about 40 years ago that Young entered my radar screen with Heart Of Gold, I had never been to one of his shows. When I read about his solo tour a few months ago and noticed it would bring him to Boston, it didn’t take long for me to decide that seeing him was worth a five-hour drive from my house, especially given the tour only had six dates: Two in each Chicago and Boston, and one in each Detroit and St. Louis.

Neil Young

But before I further get to Young, I’d like to acknowledge William Prince, a folk and country singer-songwriter, who like Young hails from Canada. Punctually at 8:00 PM, he walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened the night. Prince is a member of the Pegius First Nation from Manitoba.

In 2015, he released his debut album Earthly Days, for which he won a Western Canadian Music Award for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 the Juno Award for  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. From that album, here’s Breathless. The look and feel of the performance, which apparently was captured in December, is very similar to Wednesday night. I thought his voice and guitar-playing sounded really nice. Visit his website for more information.

And then it was time for Young. To get an idea what to expect, I checked the previous shows from the tour on setlist.fm. I noticed the sets were relatively constant and included a mix of well-known songs and other tunes that at least to me were deeper cuts. A friend of mine, who is a Neil Young connoisseur and the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band, thought it was a selection for longtime fans.

The stage setup looked a little like a music workshop. It featured areas with different instruments, including an array of acoustic guitars, a semi-hollow electric guitar, two grand pianos and two organs. Young also had multiple harmonicas on hand. During the show, he shared anecdotes about most of the instruments. For example, one of the grand pianos was from the 19th century, and the bottom had been burned during a fire. Young maintained this gave it a very unique sound, adding this tour was the first time he took it on the road. He also pointed to guitars that had once been owned by Stephen Stills and Hank Williams.

Time for some music. I tried capturing some of the songs, and while the audio came out okay, the quality of the video varies quite a bit. The latter was due to challenging lighting conditions and my seat up on the balcony in the back of the theater. There was also what looked like an illuminated stripe in the background above the stage. I’m wondering whether this may have been done on purpose to discourage taking videos, which officially was strictly forbidden.

While I get they don’t want flash photography, I generally find these “no video rules” complete nonsense. Unless you walk in with a professional camera that enables you to record footage you could sell, what damage are you going to do with clips taken with a smartphone? On the contrary, in my opinion, taking and posting such clips on Facebook or elsewhere actually helps promote the artist. Okay, I’m stopping going off on a tangent now. The following is a combination of my own clips and footage from other recent solo gigs.

First up: Pocahontas, a song by Young that first appeared on the Rust Never Sleeps live album from July 1979. Initially, he recorded a version of the tune in the mid-70s for Chrome Dreams, a then-planned but unreleased album.

Ohio was the only Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Wednesday night and one of two songs Young played on the electric guitar. Written by him in the wake of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the track was released by CSNY as a single in June that year. It was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album from April 1971 and the studio compilation So Far, released in August 1974. The tune also appeared on Young’s solo compilation albums Decade (Oct 1977) and Greatest Hits (Nov 2004).

A highlight of the show and perhaps my favorite moment of the night was After The Gold Rush. Young played the title track of his third studio album from September 1970 on a pipe organ. The church-like sound was just incredible. He slightly updated the lyrics by singing, Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century/Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century. The performance was incredibly powerful and gave me the goosebumps!

Among Young’s more recent tunes was Love And War. He recorded the song for his 30th studio album Le Noise, which appeared in September 2010. This clip was captured at his June 28 show in St. Louis.

Young finished his regular set with two gems from Harvest, his fourth studio album released in February 1972: The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold. Unfortunately, the following clip of Needle, shot in Chicago on July 1, is cut in the beginning but otherwise 10 times better than my attempt to film it.

Here’s the mighty Heart Of Gold. Young may be getting old (though he sounded great!), but not the song.

Young came back for one encore: Tumbleweed, a tune from the deluxe edition of his 34th studio album Storytone from November 2014. He performed it with a ukulele. This clip is from the above St. Louis clip.

For now, Young’s second gig in Boston last night marked the final show of his solo tour. In September, he is scheduled to perform back-to-back at Farm Aid (Hartfort, Conn., Sep 22) and, together with Promise Of The Real, at another Willie Nelson event (Saratoga, N.Y., Sep 23).

Sources: Wikipedia, Neil Young official website, William Prince official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

 

20 thoughts on “Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston”

  1. You got to see Prince and Neil Young on the same bill!!… From reading your review I am assuming it was well worth the 5 hour drive to see Mr. Young? That looked like a great venue. How many does it hold? I would imagine you were lucky to be able to get tickets! When is your next show?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, it was so great! Frankly, I had not been entirely sure what to expect, but Neil was in terrific shape. And the Wang Theatre is such a beautiful venue with an amazing acoustic!

      And, yes, as you pointed out, I even got to see Prince!:-)

      On a more serious note, I liked the guy. He plays the kind of music that makes you want to sit down and listen. I would be even more perfect for a more intimate setting like a small jazz club or something like it. Perhaps my only criticism would be that his style of singing and his guitar-plating don’t have many ups and downs, so listening to him becomes a bit monotonous after a while. Prince’s dynamic stood in marked contrast to Neil who kept switching instruments throughout his set!

      My next show is Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers tomorrow – another one I’m looking forward to. It was postponed from July 7 due to illness of an unnamed musician – hope it wasn’t Fagen!

      Anyway, after Friday night’s terrific “Dark Side Of The Mule” spectacle, even I will probably be content with taking a break – at least from “bigger” concerts. I already have a bunch of smaller, mostly free summer concert in the park type events lined up, coz you know life without rock & roll would be unthinkable! 🙂

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  2. Wang Theater (then Music Hall) is where we first saw Mr. Springsteen in 1977. I cannot remember the last time I set foot in there. I wanted to see Van Morrison when he was there but it was sold out. That was a few years ago. I like Neil and I’m overdue for a post. But I’ve never had any great desire to see him. Now, it might be fun to see him with Crazy Horse because on record it sounds like such a shambolic mess! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha, funny, when I read your question, I had a similar answer: while I may be a bit nuts to go through significant efforts to attend concerts (which you kindly call being “a foot soldier in the mighty army of rock & roll”), I’m not completely crazy!

        Plus, it wouldn’t have been smart to die or otherwise get involved in a car accident because of falling asleep at the wheel with two more concerts to go at the time of my Neil Young show!😜 Both of these shows (Mule on Fri and Steely Dan/The Doobies last night) were awesome.

        Obviously, I’m going to post something on yesterday’s doubleheader. As I already alluded, that show was outstanding, with both bands being on top of their game. Even Fagen’s vocals, which I had read in some reviews were lacking, came out beautifully last night!

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      2. The only bummer about Steely Dan last night was they didn’t play “Deacon Blues,” though various other tunes from the “Aja” album. But they are doing a residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in October where the play certain album in their entirety, including “Aja.” After last night, I’m really tempted. My problem is there is so much that tempts me!😳

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      3. I’ve never been at the Beacon but knew the Allman Brothers used to play residencies there – unfortunately, that was before I truly had explored them!

        Of course, visiting “holy ground” is an additional way to rationalize spending even more money on concerts!😜

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