If there's one thing about Neil Young that's remained true throughout his 50 years in the music business, it's this:
The man truly does not give a fuck.
So when Young stopped by D.C.'s DAR Constitution Hall on May 24 on his "Twisted Road" solo tour, this general disregard for public opinion and reception led to several magnificent moments, some perplexing ones, and one very interesting concert.
Young began with an acoustic set of three of his most celebrated tracks: "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," a song referenced in Kurt Cobain's suicide note, "Tell Me Why," and "Helpless." All three songs were performed beautifully, and despite Young's inability to hit all the high notes, demonstrated why the man's always been considered one of rock's greatest voices and songwriters.
Then, Young put away the acoustic guitar, the instrument he used to make his most famous work, for good. Switching to an electric guitar, Young played several new tracks. For every enjoyable new song (the somber "Peaceful Valley") came a so-so one (the bizarre keyboard tune "Leia"). The majority of new songs were very distortion-heavy, and weren't exactly warmly received by an audience comprised mostly of burnt-out, middle-aged hippies and suburban moms and dads expecting Young's folk classics.
Nevertheless, Young managed to intertwine the new songs with more classics, often reinterpreting them with different instruments. In what was perhaps the highlight of the night, Young played a haunting organ-version of "After The Gold Rush," and then segued into an absolutely beautiful version of "I Believe In You" on piano. And on a shortened, heavy version of "Down By The River," a song ideally backed by a band, Young demonstrated his constantly-underrated guitar talents.
Still, several peculiar moments seemed to oftentimes distract from the music. In between more than a few songs, Young seemed to wander over the stage from one instrument to another, looking as if he didn't know what song to play next. And there was the disappointing "encore," where Young played only one song (the relatively unknown and rather mediocre "Walk With Me") before leaving the stage for good.
Like his contemporary Bob Dylan, Young seems to be playing for himself as much or more than for the audience during his live shows. He could have easily toured on his greatest hits alone, playing "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man" to eager audiences, but instead chose a different direction. And while this choice may have often disappointed more than a few concertgoers (myself included), no one can question the man's artistic integrity.
After all, it's Neil Young's show, and he'll do whatever he wants to do.