NEIL Young is one of popular music's great contrarians, a permascowling maverick who has always refused to be overshadowed by his glorious past or defined by audience expectations
So it's something of a surprise to see him enthusiastically embracing the role of stadium rock elder statesman, as he does at a sold out O2. Largely ignoring his eccentric new eco album ‘Fork In The Road’ (a hippyish paean to the electric car), the grizzled Canadian instead opts for a shamelessly nostalgic romp through his 30-year songbook, veering between proto-grunge, dewy-eyed Americana and oodles of heroic noodling.
There's lots from 1969's ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’, from the garagerock blast of ‘Cinnamon Girl’, the title track's maudlin folk-pop to a blisteringly wigged-out ‘Down By The River’. It is extended to nearly 15 minutes, and Young enjoys the famous centre-piece solo so much that he circles around again for a reprise.
Not that Young, flanked by a guitarist, steel-pedal player, rhythm section and backing vocalists, has entirely renounced his awkward streak.
For reasons that must remain a mystery, an artist stands left of the drummer and spends the evening slapping paint on canvas. This isn't so much a distraction as a huge question mark hovering at the edge of your vision. Is the painter somehow connected to the ecomessage of ‘Fork In The Road’? Or does Young simply fancy re-decorating his living room and lacks the time to commission artwork when he's back on the ranch in California?
“I've never been here before,” he says, pausing to survey the yawning room. “Been everywhere else, though.” That's by way of introducing ‘Rockin' In The Free World’, an agit-prop anthem with a chorus so addictive even Young can't have enough of it (he keeps pretending to have finished the song, then plunges in for one more go).
He encores with The Beatles' ‘Day In The Life’, a syrupy act of genuflection that seems superfluous.
At 63, Neil Young remains a molten force of nature – and shouldn't feel compelled to doff his cap to anyone.