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Neil Young live at London Hammersmith Apollo review


So I was rockin’ in the free world last night (March 5, 2008) with my parents as we headed to London to check out Neil Young. I was turned onto Young by my parents who are huge fans and who were keen to share him with me. Having worked my way through his back catalogue I was captivated by Young’s delicate, almost feminine voice and political leanings, so was only too ready to see him live. Consistently name checked as one of the artists to see before you die, the opportunity was a great privilege.

The predominantly male crowd were equally keen - the crowds were heaving to get in, many backs adorned with Neil Young tour T-Shirts of old in tribute to the Canadian legend. The crowd was comprised of many an aging Young acolyte accompanied by their wives, but there were some younger couples present too, which only goes to show the draw this man has across generations. Whatever the age of the audience however, the enthusiasm displayed by the majority of the crowd was infectious. From the minute he stepped on stage he was deluged with requests for songs and cries of ‘We love you Neil!’

The Apollo is a gorgeous venue; it felt rather civilised to take a seat amongst its art deco style interior and take in the surroundings before the artists came on stage. Young’s wife Pegi provided support as people filed in and displayed a beguilingly sweet voice and assured stage presence. However, most people were waiting for the main attraction and Pegi’s performance was akin to musical wallpaper - pleasant enough, but no match for the main act.

The stage itself was decked with scrambled letters which at the end of the gig spelled out Neil, giving it the appearance of a cross between a primary school classroom and motor garage, the latter evidently a nod to Young’s current album ‘Chrome Dreams II’. An artist painted pictures throughout Young’s two sets, all bearing a relation to each song and placed on an artists’ easel for the crowd to admire at the beginning of each track. This was really interesting to watch and a clever and creative idea.

Young himself had an affable stage presence and shuffled about the stage casually, clearly very at ease with himself. His two vastly differing sets gave everyone in the audience a bit of what they fancied: one acoustic and folky set with Young predominantly seated and playing keyboard or guitar in a white suit; the other heavy, energetic and rocky with Young donning a black suit seemingly splattered with paint (and which the artist also painted!).

The acoustic set was lovely and really showcased all that is good about Young’s tremulous, fragile voice - a voice which was the same thirty years ago and still as fresh as it was back then. Comprised mostly of his earlier songs, the highlight of the set was Harvest’s “Old Man” which has added poignancy now it is sung by a 62 year old. “Ambulance Blues”, always a sad song, was also performed with a dignity and respect for his material despite its familiarity; and “Cowgirl in the Sand” was just spellbinding. The whole set was intimate and gentle, with little chat from Neil barring a cheeky wave when an audience member implored him to say something!

The gritty, punkish rock of Young’s second set was in steep contrast to this cosiness and seemed to revive Neil as much as the audience, who stood for many tracks, moving in perfect time to the rhythm of the music with hands punching the air. He’s still got it, that’s for sure!

A stirring “Down By The River” was just incredible, bluesy and dramatic with some brilliant musical performances from his band (including the wife on backing vocals). The band seemed to play as one, and modestly took a backseat to Young’s lead. The sound quality was faultless and he and his band gave tight and confident renditions of all the songs.

Where Young’s voice could seem a little nasal and strained on some of the rockier tracks, this was offset by the way he played guitar, dextrous and full of fervour. Each track was evidence of Young’s unique skill as a guitarist. His every move and gesture displayed utter absorption in and love for his craft. In other words, Young really rocked out.

Notable tracks included the grungy rock of the fun “Dirty Old Man” and the punkish “Hey Hey My My”. I must confess I flagged a little during the twenty minute opus “Ordinary People”, from ‘Chrome Dreams II’. However you couldn’t be churlish and accuse Young of self-indulgence as his passionate performance was further evidence of his musical gift. Plus, he was much more chatty in this half, energised by his pacier songs, and it was lovely to have a little more banter.

All in all this was a great show enjoyed by all - as the rapturous demands for an encore suggested. At over two hours it was great value for money and a wonderful experience. The only issue which mitigated against total pleasure in the evenings performances was the intense heat in the venue.

Two women in nearby rows actually seemed to be nodding off and I can only attribute it to the insane heatwave generated by so many people packed into a venue with absolutely no air conditioning. It actually got unbearable at times and this was a real shame given the otherwise successful night. But to end on a high, as Neil did: Keep on rockin’ in the free world, readers!

Neil Young Official Website

By: Lindsey Davis

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  1. 1 Comment(s)

  2. By on Mar 9, 2008 | Reply

    As a music photographer I shot hunderds of gigs.
    I was at the Apollo yesterday and Neil Young electric set was definitely one of my 5 gigs ever.
    If he did Like a Hurricane it would have been first, but you cannot have everything!

    nice review,

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