WB Yeats once prescribed a “frenzy of lust and rage” in the battle against old age. Judging by his performance at London’s Apollo theatre last week, 62-year-old rock veteran Neil Young seems to have taken the advice to heart.
Yes he’s older, stouter, has snow-white hair and a not-so-easily-concealable bald spot, but the trademark nasal falsetto remains untouched by the ravages of time.
The first half of the three-hour-long show is classic acoustic Young. He alternates between guitar, banjo, harmonica, piano and organ, crooning out the lyrics that are timeless owing to what can only be described as their simplicity-in-universality.
He is, by turns, the wandering minstrel reciting tales from his travels in Hank to Hendrix, the bard prophesizing about the “chosen ones” in After the Gold Rush, the poet warning against the follies of mankind in Powderfinger and the philosopher musing over human mortality in Old Man.
The serene tranquility of tracks like Mellow My Mind and Journey Through The Past befit a legend who has “been there and done that.” But Young is unwilling to leave it at “that,” just yet.
On the other side of the half-hour break, he emerges a changed man. The acoustic guitar has been traded for an electric, the gentle charm has been replaced by a raw ferocity, and his battered cream suit with a paint-spattered black one. Accompanying him, this time round, is a trusted crew of old acolytes — Rick Rosas, Ben Keith, Ralph Molina and Anthony Crawford.
Loud and powerful renditions of iconic pieces such as Hey Hey My My, Mr Soul and Too Far Gone follow, coupled with newer numbers like Dirty Old Man, The Believer and Spirit Road. A painter, in keeping with the mysterious theme of Young’s attire, scribbles away in the rear and heralds each tune by waving about his artistic transcription of it.
Sweeping back and forth across the stage, Young pounds rather than plays guitar. He has more in common with the warrior on the battlefield, than with the musician in concert. There’s a climax-within-a-climax as he goes off on a “musical ride” in the extended guitar jam that marks No Hidden Path. In Tonight’s the Night, he returns, surer and wiser for his moment of epiphany, and his verdict is to go out and seize the day.
And then with a bow and a wave is the mighty spell broken. The mostly middle-aged audience troop home, revelling in what they have just witnessed — a star, raging, raging against the dying of the light. And succeeding.