NEW YORK — Neil Young may be a critics' darling, but the tumultuous audience response to the blistering show he and Crazy Horse put on at Madison Square Garden made it clear that audiences adore him, too. The crowd, which largely consisted of people too young to walk when he started his career, knew that Young is the real goods, the godfather of grunge, and that the years haven't dimmed his rock-and-roll passion.
The anomaly is that Young and his cohorts put on what could be considered a greatest-hits show, with many of the selections dating back two decades or more, but he totally avoids the stigma of being an oldies act. A vital artist who still releases an album a year (or more) of passionate, powerful music, Young is a shining example that a rock legend doesn't have to burn out or fade away.
That was demonstrated by the first song, a version of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" that was just as powerful as it was during the "Rust Never Sleeps" period. The crowd was instantly galvanized and stayed that way during a two-hour set.
Young and Crazy Horse ranged through their entire career, performing incendiary versions of classics and lesser-known titles like "Cinnamon Girl," "Sedan Delivery," the 10-minute long "Cortez the Killer," "Tonight's the Night," the appropriately themed "Prisoners of Rock and Roll," as well as several cuts from the new "Broken Arrow" release. As Young played the guitar, his body language was nearly as compelling as the sounds he was making. During the lengthy guitar instrumentals that punctuated most of the songs, he and Poncho Sampedro (guitar) and Billy Talbot (bass) would stand in a circle playing to one another.
Young, looking suitably grungy in baggy shorts and a dingy T-shirt, also played a compelling solo acoustic set, consisting of such classics as "Sugar Mountain" and "Heart of Gold."
The highlight was the show-ending "Like a Hurricane," which ended in frenzy of guitar fury in which Young made his instrument produce a sound like the rumble of a hurricane; then, with a theatrical flourish, he tore every string of the guitar, practically destroying it in the process. It was a bit of shtick that would have made a punk rocker three decades his junior envious.
The show is a good deal for the dollar, with such strong opening acts as The Afghan Whigs and the singer Jewel.
*Coming tour dates for Neil Young and Crazy Horse include Sept. 6 in Chicago, Sept. 7 in Minneapolis, Sept. 9 in Englewood, Colo., and Sept. 11 in Inglewood, Calif.