Published Feb 21, 2010Neil Young's catalogue, revered and legendary that it is, is often tough to duplicate, which is why Hal Willner's Neil Young Project, a celebration of Young's music featuring a variety of artists, was such a success. Not only did artists such as Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Mark Kozelek, Vashti Bunyan and members of Broken Social Scene replicate Young's songs with accuracy, but the panache and fine touches they threw onto the event elevated it to something truly special. Simply put, if you weren't there, you really missed out.
There was a certain swagger shared by the revolving door of performers. It was a swagger that didn't necessarily result in a strutting braggadocio, but just a sense of pride that the soul of good ol' Neil Young's tunes belong to each and every one of us. Ranging from shifty, sauntering blues numbers to the sombre acoustic touches of brilliance, one thing became certain: Young's songs are as powerful as the very Olympic spirit this show was supposed to embody.
From Metric's Emily Haines and James Shaw infusing a gothic charm to "A Man Needs a Maid" to Joan As Policewoman turning Young's greasy guitar solos into a strange yet righteous possibility on a violin throughout "On the Beach," there was no shortage of highlights throughout the evening.
And as Ron Sexsmith added humble, gracious and eternally classy touches to "Star of Bethlehem," it became clear that Hal Willner's choice of the musicians was dead-on. They all symbolized a certain quality that has mythologized Young. Even Teddy Thompson messing up the opening to "I Believe in You" showcased Young's rough around the edges approach.
But to see Lou Reed and Elvis Costello banging their way through "Fuckin' Up" was what really elevated the performance. Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew stood in the background, clearly in awe but desperately trying to live in the moment with every ounce of his indie rock soul. And it ended up being Drew who lead the crowd and the entire ensemble through the sincere closer, "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," pressing everyone to embrace a moment that won't soon be forgotten.