BY JANE STEVENSON, QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - Neil Young’s solo acoustic Massey Hall tradition continued Sunday night as he launched his Honour The Treaties tour in Toronto. Young is embarking on the four-city trek in support of the First Nations fight in Alberta to protect their land against oil sands development.
And the rocker wasn’t just thinking about that environmental battle - he managed to throw Prime Minister Stephen Harper into his song Pocahontas - as he also talked about preserving the venue that made him famous in the early ‘70s.
“I hear there’s going to be some building around here - don't let them change this place,” said the 68-year-old folk-rocker who played solo songs, CSNY, Buffalo Springfield and Stills-Young Band tunes, plus covers by folk singer-songwriter and inspirations Phil Ochs and Bert Jansch.
Young was adept on acoustic guitar (he was surrounded by them in a circle, one given to him by Steven Stills, and another once owned by Hank Williams), banjo, piano, organ, synthesizer, and harmonica as he wandered around a candle lit stage dominated by a huge Honour The Treaties backdrop and an Aboriginal chief statue.
And he was definitely in a protest mood although it took him a while to get to such gems as Ohio and Southern Man during his concert which ran just shy of two hours.
Also noteworthy was Helpless, Old Man, A Man Needs A Maid (with synthesizer accompaniment), Mr. Soul, After The Gold Rush, Heart of Gold, Long May You Run, and he even took one request, Jansch’s Needle Of Death, after someone shouted out Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird, prompting Young’s first smile of the night.
"I guess you're waiting for me to play my hit," he joked.
He also told some pretty funny stories like renting the piano on his stage while he was recording his 1970 classic album, After the Gold Rush: “I still have it!”
Or speaking of his numerous guitars including the one given to him by Stills that had a bullet hole in it: “I think he was playing one of my songs at the time.”
There was certainly none of the on-stage crankiness reported during one of his Carnegie Hall performances in New York City recently where he ripped into the audience for clapping off-time (a pet peeve of mine too) and talking (another one).
Opening for Young on the Honour The Treaties trek, which will also visit Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary, is Diana Krall. The Canadian jazz star was suffering from the sniffles during a short set that included covers like Jackson Browne’s Doctor, My Eyes, Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home, and Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over.
Young made mention of Krall’s gift as musician when he tinkled the ivories later: “It feels like someone special has been here.”
Prior to the show about 100 or so members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and their supporters held a rally outside Massey Hall, singing and banging drums.
NEIL YOUNG SET LIST:
From Hank to Hendrix
On the Way Home
Love in Mind
Mellow My Mind
Are You Ready for the Country
A Man Needs a Maid
After The Gold Rush
Journey Through the Past
Needle of Death
Heart of Gold
Comes a Time
Long May You Run