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Neil Young in concert (but this wasn't what fans expected)

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 10, 2003

TAMPA - Who knows how many of the Neil Young fans Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum still would have paid between $35 and $75 for tickets to his show had they known what Young was presenting. Those who came to hear the Canadian rocker's classics such as Ohio, Cinnamon Girl and Old Man, from his four-decade career, were likely shocked to find Young, surrounded by an elaborate stage set, actors and a video screen, performing nothing but as-yet-unheard material from Greendale, a concept album he will release in August.

Then again, fans who understand Young are never shocked by him. An artist of almost vicious integrity, Young, 57, has always followed his own muse, whether it be recording an album of unlistenable "pre-electronica" in the early 1980s, going rockabilly for a spell or supporting Ronald Reagan.

Monday's "concert" found Young again exercising his artistic rights - and good for him, though some fans were clearly disappointed. Young, however, was in rare form. Dressed in his scraggly best of blue jeans and a ball cap, the singer enthusiastically addressed the crowd between songs, something he hasn't done in decades.

"I'm just going to talk to you tonight, relax," Young said early on. He explained the idea behind Greendale. Backed by the excellent Crazy Horse, his band since 1969, they performed in order every song from the album. As they played, actors on the stage pantomimed the song's tales, using elaborate stage sets including a country porch and an automobile.

Greendale's plot is convoluted, but it's essentially the story of a fictional California family whose patriarch, Earl, is a Vietnam vet. His drug-dealing son accidentally shoots a police officer and goes to jail. Earl's daughter is an environmental activist, and this veers into video footage about oil and the Middle East. While we listen to Young sing - his voice is as sweet and tremelous as ever - and watch folks dancing in army fatigues, we're to put the pieces together. It's a bit dizzying. Young's message? Perhaps that the micro is the macro. Our globe is screwed up because our homes are screwed up.

Monday's audience reacted warmly to the conceptual show, which seemed to reassure Young. At spots when the crowd grew restless, Young held his own, telling one rabblerouser, "Hey, shut up, a---." The loyalists were treated to an encore of raucous hits, played vigorously.

Opener Lucinda Williams charmed fans with her sultry songs. The singer-guitarist performed the title track and I Lost It from the critically-acclaimed Car Wheels On A Gravel Road as well as bluesier cuts from the recent World Without Tears.

To contact Gina Vivinetto email gina@sptimes.com

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