in performance: neil young/bert jansch

neil young last night at the louisville palace. photo by mark cornelison.

neil young last night at the louisville palace. photo by mark cornelison.

“I said solo… they said acoustic.”

That’s the slogan that has already become a revealing catch phrase for Neil Young’s Twisted Road Tour, which stopped at the Louisville Palace last night. True to his word, the 95 minute performance featured Young sans band. But anyone thinking this was an unplugged return to the songsmith’s folkie roots was as mistaken as those who believed the show was going to be a by-the-numbers hits recitation.

Initially, “solo acoustic” was the order of the evening. Young opened the show by tracing back through the ‘70s for fine back-to-back readings of My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue), Tell Me Why and Helpless. But he didn’t stayed glued to the past for long. A trio of new and unreleased tunes, highlighted by the topically autobiographical Love and War and a boatload of bass pedal effects, followed. Then Young flipped the switch again by taking his weatherbeaten Les Paul guitar known as Ol’ Black out for Hitch Hiker (an unreleased gem of drug-hazed redemption that is an outgrowth of the Trans-era relic Like an Inca) and a revision of Down by the River that shifted from choruses of swampy ambience to verses riddled with electric shotgun blasts.

Young never touched an acoustic guitar again for the rest of the evening. He offered one song each on upright piano (the new, childlike Leia), pump organ (a hymn-like After the Gold Rush) and grand piano (a reverb soaked I Believe in You).

The rest was all jarring, glorious electricity that reached its zenith with Cortez the Killer, which grew out of whammy bar induced guitar twang and distortion to reclaim its place as one of Young’s darkest, most riveting peace anthems.

The performance ended with another new song (the seventh of the night), the jagged affirmation Walk With Me. Like most of the other new works, it was a fascinating, ear ringing electric playground of a tune. The older works may have been the crowd pleasers. But songs like Walk With Me are far more reflective of an artist facing, and moving, forward.

Show opener Bert Jansch, a cornerstone member of the British folk community for over four decades, was a delight. Still a remarkable guitarist with a deft command of modal style folk, Jansch’s 40 minute set nicely shifted from the elegant atmospherics of Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning to the more wistful Carnival and Katie Cruel.

Echoes of American blues surfaced, as well. But Jansch’s low, whispery singing and clean arpeggiated guitarwork delighted in blurring senses of time and place. This was fanciful, traditionalist folk expertly played by one of its foremost practitioners.

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