Neil Young. Brixton Academy, London

Musical family keeps the spirit strong even when flesh is weak

By Gavin Martin
Monday 13 January 2014 02:33

The ties of family and friendship provided the inspiration for Neil Young's most recent album Are You Passionate?. Last night he was fresh from a successful and lucrative US tour with his old buddies Crosby, Stills and Nash. He was accompanied by a band that acknowledged the breadth of his musical associations and indeed family ties, with the legend Booker T, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn and the Crazy Horse guitarist Frank Sam Pedro along with his wife Peggy and half-sister Astrid on backing vocals.

Young has said the line-up was chosen instead of Crazy Horse (God's own garage band) because of the complexity of his new material. And indeed the glistening spacious West Coast dream rock of the opening "When You Dance" gave credence to his claim. Dunn's bass managed to be both domineering and pensive, Booker T's smoky organ rhymes vied with Young's own feedbacking guitar.

The problem was that the songs that benefited best from the set-up are more than 25 years old. When it came to material from Are You Passionate? the atmosphere dropped considerably.

But the impression that he's not quite at the match was temporarily obliterated by the savage par cords, exuberant harmonies, triumphant chorus and mysterious lyric that fuels "Going Home". It is a recasting of ancient Young themes but brilliantly accomplished.

This was not one of Young's better performances. But in the second half of the show there was at least a chance for him and his band to allow their instrumental lyricism to shine. Small but gratifying displays that showed how the bonds of his musical family keep the spirit strong even when the flesh is weak.

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