Friday 24 November 2017

Forever Young

(in spirit, at least)

John Meagher

John Meagher

This is a bumper weekend for live music. Last night, Robbie Williams played the Aviva Stadium and tomorrow sees Bon Jovi headline Slane. But while both these big names have their merits – and legions of devoted fans – they are in the ha'penny place compared with the man who will play Dublin's RDS this evening: Neil Young.

The Canadian may be 67, but he is still rocking in the free world and he could teach those bands whose members are young enough to be his grandchildren just how to put on a live show that lives in the memory.

Young's first album – with Buffalo Springfield – was released in 1966 and in the intervening 46 years, he has been remarkably prolific and keen to embrace a wide variety of genres. It's little wonder that he is as influential among grunge rock bands as he is with singer-songwriters.

Like those of his peers who came of age in rock's golden age of the late 1960s/early 1970s, Young is showing little interest in retirement. If anything, rock's most celebrated eco-warrior is as creative now as he was almost four decades ago. Age is not withering him one bit.

"His recent work is just as important to him as the albums he released in the 1970s," says the promoter Peter Aiken, who is putting on tonight's show. "He is part of a generation who look like they will keep going until they drop. Their live shows are as vital to them as they always were and they put their heart and soul into the performance. Some musicians are happy to phone in their shows, but not Young or Springsteen or Dylan."

The willingness of these iconic names to offer markedly different shows from one night to the next ensures that the most devoted fans attend multiple concerts, as is likely to be the case when Bruce Springsteen plays shows in Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny next month as part of his long-running Wrecking Ball tour.

While there is no shortage of vintage acts plying their wares on the Irish arena circuit, a select group including the trio Aiken mentions – plus the likes of Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen – continue to release new material that can stand alongside the best of their careers.

"Look at Dylan," Aiken says. "[His 2006 album] Modern Times is up there with his greatest work. It's the same with Springsteen – his live shows are as much about the likes of The Rising and Magic [albums from 2002 and 2007, respectively] as they are about the songs that forged his legend more than four decades ago. These are not people who rest on their laurels."

The same can not necessarily be said of such heritage acts as The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Elton John who have failed to release significant new music despite the continued strengths of their live performances.

So, who are the great veteran performers who are still releasing new work to stand alongside their best albums? Luminaries like David Bowie and Joni Mitchell simply haven't played enough in recent years to be considered while the likes of Ray Davies and Art Garfunkel have not released compelling new material in many years.

Here are 10 (in alphabetical order) aged 60 or over to be reckoned with.

ERIC CLAPTON (68)

His latest album – the unpromisingly titled Old Sock – may be a disappointment by his high standards, but the former Yardbirds and Cream singer is a live performer par excellence.

Clapton's wondrous guitar playing truly comes into its own in a concert setting and anyone who has witnessed his live show will understand why he has proved so influential for six-string lovers everywhere.

LEONARD COHEN (78)

The Canadian's 2008 concerts at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, are considered to be among the best shows ever staged in Ireland. Cohen has been back several times since then and there's been little slip in quality.

Last year saw him releasing a much-praised album, the aptly named Old Ideas, which has helped freshen his set, and he returns to these shores in September.

BOB DYLAN (72)

Let's be honest here: Dylan's live show can be hit or miss. But when he's in the mood, he is untouchable.

It helps that many of his songs are among the most fabled of the last century and for music fans of all hues, witnessing the doyen of singer-songwriters deliver 'Like A Rolling Stone' in the flesh is an experience to cherish forever.

DEBBIE HARRY (67)

The Blondie singer helped make New York the most fertile music location on the planet in the late 1970s and she would influence several generations of female band leaders who followed.

Harry is still a commanding presence on stage and continues to write fine songs, even if they don't hit the zeitgeist in quite the way they once did.

IGGY POP (66)

Everybody should see the Stooges leader in concert at least once. He makes even the most active frontman look lifeless thanks to his stage-diving and anything-goes antics.

His solo work is frequently riveting, and his latest album – with his old Stooges mates – shows he is as capable of kicking up an almighty racket now as he was at the start of the 1970s. Few have grown old as disgracefully as the Detroiter.

PAUL SIMON (71)

He made his name with Art Garfunkel in the 1960s, but Simon's subsequent solo career has well and truly eclipsed that of his old friend.

Evidence of his enduring gifts were especially apparent in Dublin's O2 last year when he played his seminal 1986 "world music" album Graceland in its entirety. And his delivery of old Simon & Garfunkel standards was spellbinding.

PATTI SMITH (66)

Smith's 1975 debut Horses remains a proto-punk blueprint and her uncompromising vision hasn't dimmed one iota in the 40-odd years since then.

Last year's Banga album was frequently mesmerising and her live performances are every bit as visceral as they were when she was in her 20s.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (63)

Rolling Stone proclaimed the New Jersey man to be the future of rock back in 1974 and, for once, their hyperbolic words came to pass.

Springsteen is a force of nature whose live shows usually last more than three hours and his obsession with chopping and changing the set list in his concerts ensures that no two ever feel the same. His four-hour set at Slane in 1985 remains the stuff of legend.

TOM WAITS (63)

Even as a young, fledgling songwriter, Waits's sandpaper vocals felt like the work of a much more mature singer.

The past 10 years have seen something of a creative rebirth for the sometime actor, thanks to a handful of albums that have showcased his increasingly gruff, distinctive voice. His most recent Irish show – at a tent in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, five years ago – was stunning.

NEIL YOUNG (67)

Whether he's in troubadour mode or full-on Crazy Horse attack, Young is a scintillating live presence. Unlike many of his peers from the Laurel Canyon school of song-writing, he continues to release new albums at a highly prolific rate.

And while the quality control can be varied, to put it diplomatically, when he's on form he is always worth listening to.

Irish Independent

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