Vicar St., Dublin
Although a summer arena/shed tour with his legendary band Crazy Horse will begin in June, Neil Young has been steadily weaving his way around Europe, playing solo acoustic shows in more intimate venueAlthough a summer arena/shed tour with his legendary band Crazy Horse will begin in June, Neil Young has been steadily weaving his way around Europe, playing solo acoustic shows in more intimate venues.
The smallest of them was Vicar St., a state-of-the art music hall in Dublin's old Liberties quarter that seats 1,000 around its jazz-club-like tables.
By the last evening of his three-night stint here, Young had clearly relaxed into his surroundings, sparring with his audience at regular intervals, happy to trade witty asides and wry observations.
The set was divided into two halves. For the first, Young unveiled his forthcoming concept album, Greendale, in its totality. The second consisted of a greatest-hits segment based around Harvest and After the Gold Rush. It was almost as though Young was rewarding his audience for its patience in soaking up an hour-and-a-half of new material by peppering the latter half of the gig with his most well-known songs.
Although Greendale is also the name of the town where the famous British cartoon character Postman Pat delivers the mail, in Young's world it is a fictional harbor town somewhere on the American coastline.
In a series of overlapping narratives, Young told the story of three generations of the Green family, who seem to represent the best of America—they're by turns kind, loyal, creative, rebellious, and self-possessed.
We heard tales of Grandma and Grandpa Green, and it was almost as if we were back on Sugar Mountain or at home with the Waltons. Yet things took a sinister twist when one of the clan gunned down a policeman after being caught smuggling drugs in his car.
Revisiting territory previously mapped out on "Tired Eyes" from Tonight's the Night, Young then went on to draw an extraordinarily poignant picture of the dead policeman's grieving widow and colleagues in "Carmichael."
Although delivered mostly on acoustic guitar and harmonica, these new songs were satisfyingly complex and emotionally rich.
And yet they seemed sublimely timeless, partly because they are tied to simple old blues and folk arrangements. Of all the new items, the most affecting was "Bandit," with its bittersweet lament: "Someday you'll find everything you're looking for."
Between songs, Young spun a narrative to flesh out both the internal and external lives of the characters, suggesting that they have taken up squatter's rights in his imagination.
The narrative's best character is the beautiful, impulsive 18-year-old, Sun Green, who makes an anti-war statement on the side of a mountain from hay bales for passing airplanes to see, and who takes off to Alaska with a kindred spirit to help save the landscape from polluting industrialists.
After the intermission, Young played a lovely version of "Lotta Love." Then he foraged through a big book of song lyrics that sat on the table beside him and settled on "Horseshoe Man," from 2000's Silver and Gold, which he performed beautifully on the grand piano, his famously fragile voice sounding hauntingly forlorn as he pondered: "Love? I don't know about love."
Back on guitar, "Old Man" took on a delicious irony, with the now 58-year-old Young. He chose the upright piano for a wonderful version of the ballad "Birds."
The highlight was perhaps the rare performance of "Ambulance Blues." Somnambulant and surreal, it found the awestruck crowd rising to its feet before an encore of "Heart of Gold" brought this remarkable trio of gigs to a close.—NK