Neil Young, United Palace Theatre, New York

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The Independent Culture

Tonight, Neil Young appears on stage in a dapper grey and white suit, looking as sturdy as any sexagenarian with a history of back trouble has any right to look, and there's nothing to indicate any lasting effects from his near-fatal 2005 aneurysm either.

This Christmas residency in the historic United Palace Theatre is undoubtedly classified under the "intimate" category and he takes advantage of this setting by beginning the show with a breathtaking 50-minute solo performance.

Encircled by an arsenal of guitars at the centre of the stage, Young opens with a serene "From Hank to Hendrix" that enraptures the room instantaneously, but there's a distinctly unpremeditated feel to the song selection in this part of the set. At one point, he stands up, ponders what to do for what seems like an age, and then ambles over to the side of the stage to deliver a spectacular, organ-enhanced rendition of "A Man Needs a Maid" as though he were sauntering into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee.

By the time he rounds things off with an astonishing "Old Man," the only apt response seems to be a gasp of awe a sound that continues to resonate around the venue long after Young has left the stage.

After a brief intermission, he returns with band in tow and proceeds to bring the uneven but impressive new album Chrome Dreams II to life via a full electric set. But despite the enjoyable swamp-rock bluster of "Dirty Old Man" or "Spirit Road", the amplified and augmented Young does not quite achieve the same emotional impact or musical mesmerism that he managed on his own just 30 minutes earlier.

It is certainly a reassuring sight to see Young throwing his sizeable frame around the stage as he begins to tear through a solo during the epic "No Hidden Path", but after almost 10 minutes of indulgent fret-fondling, it becomes an undeniably tiresome sound.

The finale of "Like a Hurricane" is a natural showstopper, but even that is wilfully elongated and would probably continue into the early hours of the morning if the venue's curfew wasn't so strictly enforced.

Although the sight of Neil doing what Neil wants continues to be tinged with a modicum of frustration, it should also be remembered that the day that Young begins to spoon-feed his audience will also be the day that the world begins to lose interest in him.

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