Neil Young’s family outing

Rating: NNNNNYou can't blame Neil Young for wanting to turn his summer tour into a bit of a family vacation..

Rating: NNNNN

You can’t blame Neil Young for wanting to turn his summer tour into a bit of a family vacation.

So rather than rolling out with Crazy Horse, the grizzled singer/songwriter is on the road with a crew of family and old friends, including wife Pegi and sister Astrid on vocals and an all-star band with Jim Keltner, Spooner Oldham, Duck Dunn and Ben Keith.

From the stripped-bare, softly lit stage on down, it was a calm and casual event. With a straw hat strapped on and a Sonic Youth shirt, Young trawled through some of the less exposed songs in his catalogue.

Nothing he played during this spring’s marathon CSNY sets was repeated, which meant no Down By The River, Like A Hurricane or Cinnamon Girl. Instead, Young alternated between gale-force runs at loud classics like Powderfinger and comfy strums through the country rock of Harvest Moon and Silver And Gold sessions.

While the selection was inspired, the two-plus-hour set’s pacing was peculiar, and it slowed to a restless chug throughout the new material. Young’s band didn’t help push things along much either.

Every so often, the expanded instrumentation, including piano, pedal steel and vibes, added something unique to the songs. Most memorable was a howling version of Tonight’s The Night, with Young wearing giant sunglasses, hunched over a piano and banging out a Dr. John-style swamp rhythm.

At its best, the foursome was largely invisible, but occasionally it struggled to keep up with Young’s frenetic pace. The times when it all clicked were the intense electric numbers like Words and the apocalyptic, 20-minute version of Cowgirl In The Sand, which sounded a lot like orchestral Crazy Horse.

When they didn’t click, our man from Omeemee usually managed to pull it out. You’d expect nothing less.

NEIL YOUNG, at the Molson Amphitheatre, August 31. Tickets: $35-$89.50. Attendance: 16,000. Rating: NNN

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