In concert, Young achieved most of the atmospheric effects through volume--loud and noisy but not enough to call for earplugs--and feedback, though he opened the show with a fairly quiet set on acoustic guitar ("My, My, Hey, Hey," "Tell Me Why," "Helpless"). What surprised me most was how clear and strong Young's voice is. His vocal trademark is usually closer to whiny and fragile, but here, even at the age of 65, his voice sounded better than ever. Because Young has been know to be a bit of a contrarian in concert, deliberately withholding his big hits and playing lesser-known and unreleased stuff, I was pleasantly surprised to hear these three early songs. He then did an unreleased song, "You Never Call," which seemed to be Young complaining about a friend who had passed on who never calls from Heaven, followed by a batch of songs from Le Noise.
After every song or two, he would put down whatever instrument he was playing (guitar, harmonica) and meander about the stage to choose another instrument (piano, pump organ). It looked very casual and almost improvised, although apparently his set list never varied a bit during this tour. He performed a lovely new song called "Leia," about (I assume) his granddaughter, and did a sublime version of "After the Gold Rush" at the organ, which brought tears to my eyes. Another quiet moment was his piano version of "I Believe in You." The biggest surprise of the night was his protest-song hit from his CSNY days, "Ohio," appropriate not only because he was in Ohio but because the next day, May 4th, would be the 41st anniversary of the Kent State shootings, the subject of the song.
But the hardcore fans were probably happiest when he dragged out three rockers from the old days: "Cortez the Killer," "Down By the River," and my favorite, "Cinnamon Girl" (see the video below from a live show in New York a few years ago) and did them justice even without a backing band. People around us were yelling for "Old Man," but really, can a man who is now officially a senior citizen sing that song without seeming deluded? I looked around me and noticed how old everyone looked--the dressed-to-the-niners, the bleary-eyed hippies in their tie-dyed t-shirts--and then realized that most of these folks were my age (mid-50s) or younger. An unwanted epiphany that did not spoil a great show.