Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cough up the Bucks

Neil Young pounded his brazen and blunt guitar leads out on stage and they surged through Madison Square Garden last night to the delight of his adoring fans. His presentation included a mixture of old classics and timely new songs.

Young straddles and bends as he cradles his 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar, the one he calls "Old Black." His left foot thumps, his body twists and turns, almost hulking, and his long stringy hair flops and waves from side to side. He reaches deep inside for his distinctive voice and crinkles his face on the highest notes. He bounces to the left and darts to the right as his fingers fly up and down the guitar neck and his right hand slashes and stabs at the strings. Precision gives way to raw emotion. He is an aging rock star who lives in the moment. "It's better to burn out than to fade away," he screams with passion and fire.

His lyrics vary from simple and real to sardonic and rebellious. This "Godfather of Grunge" played his classic tunes such as "Cinnamon Girl" and "Cortez Cortez." His work has influenced many groups including Pearl Jam, Nirvanna and Wilco. He electrified his audience with "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay," an anthem for many baby boomers. The raucous crowd stilled for "The Needle and the Damage Done." Then, hunching over a pipe organ, he played and sang an appeal to the masses called "Mother Earth."

He often strives for relevance in his music; "Ohio," "Rockin'in the Free World," "Let's Roll" and "Let's Impeach the President" are some examples. So it was hardly surprising last night when he shouted "Cough up the Bucks" and sang, "Where did all the cash flow?/Where did all the money stream?" He carries his cynicism around with him where ever he goes. A native Canadian, he is frank, terse and to the point. Though he has had his ups and downs, he is always truthful and resilient.

Near the end of the concert he returned to fan favorites including "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man." Young knows his audience well and he entertains them with raw respect and bold directness.

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