The last time Neil Young played the Ryman Auditorium, they made a movie out of it. It was called Heart of Gold, and featured a small orchestra and a gospel choir. This time around, he was an army of one, accompanied only by his own legend.
Performing classic hits from his canon interspersed with new songs from his upcoming studio album with producer Daniel Lanois, Young rocked the Ryman using an arsenal of instruments — acoustic guitar for “Helpless,” pump organ for “After The Goldrush,” piano for “I Believe In You.”
While it was a treat to hear a relaxed Young play his signature licks on his vintage acoustics, the best moments came when he plugged in his electric guitars, creating true “power chords” which vibrated the very floors and walls of the fabled auditorium. “I’ve seen a thousand shows at the Ryman,” remarked one nearby concert-goer, “and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
After a hypnotic opening set from Scottish guitar legend Bert Jansch, who thanked the crowd for “not throwing anything at me,” Young took the stage solo to a thunderous ovation.The new tracks he unveiled throughout the evening were uniformly good, and served as perfect palate cleansers for familiar favorites like “Ohio” and “Tell Me Why.”
The lyrics to the unreleased “Love and War” had the audience enthralled, and voicing their approval frequently. “Hitchhiker” lays out the ballad of Neil through the towns he’s lived in and the drugs he’s ingested. And “You Never Call” is a conversation with the spirit of a departed loved one, who’s possibly bored in heaven, but free from back pain.
To hear the oft-covered “Cortez The Killer” from the Killer himself is a joyful experience, and Young drew out the drama, laying down single strums that reverberated throughout the hall, as his subjects gathered ’round him. What must it have been like for Young, a career artist, to perform these songs, which he’d sung a million times fronting countless bands, solo? “It’s so hard for me staying here all alone,” he moaned during a laid-back “Down By The River.” Clearly, it wasn’t.