Published May 11, 2011As with everything Neil Young, the announcement of two shows at Toronto's storied Massey Hall was coupled with a great deal of mystery. The concerts were set to be filmed by director Jonathan Demme as the finale to his trilogy of Young concert films. Heart of Gold captured the songwriter in all his country glory while Trunk Show showed Young's hard-rocking and jammier side. So which Young would the fans get this time?
Unsurprisingly, Young's ability to avoid being pinned down carried over to his song selection this night. Rather than choosing to be defined by his sonics, Young cashed in some of his post-Juno adoration for a set focused on the personal and introspective side of his weighty catalogue, leaning on a similar set list to the one he's used on his recent solo tours.
Sauntering onstage alone, decked out in jeans, a black T-shirt, cream sports coat and matching hat, he appeared to take stock of the setup -- a colourfully decorated grand piano, pump organ, battered-looking standup piano and wooden statue of an American Indian -- before he took his seat. Lit by a pair of spotlights, his acoustic in hand, Young delivered "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," "Tell Me Why" and the CSNY classic "Helpless," much to the delight of the packed audience.
But any thoughts that Young was seeking to recreate his famed 1971 acoustic performance at the same venue were quickly dashed. Young soon ditched his guitar for an acoustic-electric hybrid on the beautiful "You Never Call," a song that was recorded for last year's Le Noise but was axed from its final tracklisting, as well as a pair of tunes that did make the cut. Switching guitars again, Young ripped through passionate, overdriven versions of "Down by the River" and "Ohio."
Young let his music do the talking for the majority of the set while fans cried out between song lulls or at any mention of Canada, Ontario, Toronto or hockey. He finally spoke as he sat down at the upright piano. "Here's a song for all the little people -- they're too small to be here tonight," he joked. "Mamma said 'nope' but Grandpa's here."
The main set ended with solo-electric versions of "Cortez the Killer" and "Cinnamon Girl." Young briefly left the stage before returning for a feedback-drenched version of Le Noise's "Walk with Me." How Demme eventually chooses to frame the evening remains to be seen, but the show itself showed that however varied Young's songs are in instrumentation, they remain highly personal snapshots of time.