NEW YORK (Billboard) - As strange as it is to see a band with its own huge live draw play an opening set, Wilco were the perfect choice to prime the crowd at Madison Square Garden on Monday for Neil Young.
In fact, watching Jeff Tweedy and company cruise through their abbreviated set (a breakneck nine songs that left the crowd palpably desperate for more) illustrated the fact that they could very well become the Neil Young of a younger generation.
Their songs are intricately written but still accessible, their live shows are raucous and they reference early rock and country without stealing from it. After a playing a set filled with incredible songs like “Jesus Etc.,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” there were still dozens of others in their catalog that the audience was dying to hear.
The floor of the Garden was almost completely cleared of seats to accommodate a standing audience, and the thousand fans who were devoted enough to stand for four hours straight were rewarded with an experience so intimate it seemed unreal. When Young finally took the stage in a paint-splattered blazer and Frank Zappa t-shirt, diving immediately into a fuzzed-out, energized of “Love and Only Love,” it felt like being transported back in time to a crowded club.
Young, 63, clearly has no intention of resting on his laurels. Besides blasting through noisy, wild and achingly sincere versions of classics like “Cinnamon Girl,” “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold,” Young packed the set with recent and brand new tracks like “Off The Road,” “Hit the Road and Go To Town,” and “Get Behind the Wheel.” He even egged the crowd on to make a big stink about his newer songs because his new record label executives were in the audience.
Pure fearlessness poured out of Young’s signature gigantic Magnatone cabinet as he leaned on his whammy bar, distorting the tunes in the style for which he’s become famous. He tore into “Rockin’ in the Free World” before the encore, leaving the audience to wonder what was left to finish the show. He then defiantly returned to the stage to howl through “A Day in the Life,” a track even the Beatles never played live (and Paul McCartney flubbed when he tried to do it this summer). Young finished the song in a swirl of noise, angrily ripping strings from his guitar and grinding them together for maximum chaos.
Between the nostalgic and mournful vocal harmonies of his ‘60s and ‘70s hits and the ear-bleeding (not to mention politically charged) shows he puts on in the 21st century, Young seems to have done the impossible: capture the zeitgeist of two generations.