Monday 16 December 2019

Rock: Old Man keeps his legend alive, and there's rough and tumble in the city

Neil Young, 3 Arena, Dublin

Still got it: Neil Young
Still got it: Neil Young

Resplendently craggy, Neil Young looked every bit the granite-hewn icon as he brought his controversial new tour to Dublin. With a setlist stuffed with preachy new songs, the 70-year-old had come to challenge his legend rather than embellish it and around the not-quite-sold out venue fans may have wondered what they were in for.

There was, it is true, plenty of sermonising. The evening began with actors dressed as share-croppers tossing seed; later men in gas masks stomped about spraying "pesticide".

However, Young leavened the moralising with unexpected joviality. In contrast to the aloof figure he cut on his last several Dublin concerts, he was quirky and irreverent. A faux-grumpy back and forth with a punter requesting 'Rockin' In The Free World' was, for instance, revealed to be a preamble to a surprise, and blistering, rendering of Young's most commercial anthem.

And if the hits didn't exactly flow, they at least arrived in a steady trickle. An acoustic introduction featured 'Heart of Gold' and 'Needle and the Damage Done'; later, he thundered through 'Alabama' and 'Ohio', the latter an excoriation of the American Right's reactionary tendencies that feels timelier than ever in a year in which Donald Trump is a few swing states from the White House. 

Young's previous Dublin show, in 2013, split his audience down the middle. Some were thrilled by the interminable apocalyptic solos. Yet just as many were aghast at the hit-skimping and boos echoed across the terraces. There was no such backlash at the 3Arena - not even when Young indulged himself with anti-corporate fusillades such as the never-ending 'Monsanto Years'. The crowd pleasers were unimpeachable, and arrived at sufficiently regular intervals so that the occasionally po-faced moment didn't matter. No new tricks - but this old dog still had lots of bite. 

- Ed Power

Classical: Carducci Quartet, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin

Looking luxuriantly verdant and with the evening sun streaming through the recital hall windows, the Great Music in Irish Houses Festival has a propitious launch in the National Botanic Gardens.

The opening event brings the Anglo/Irish Carducci Quartet to the festival for the first time in music by Haydn and Shostakovich. Later familiar English cellist Guy Johnston expands the ensemble for Schubert's C major Quintet, written in the last months of his short life.

The evening begins with Haydn whose D major Hob III/34 Quartet starts with a sense of mysterious adventure and ends with highly puckish gaiety. In between comes a set of meditative variations and a merry gypsy-style minuet.

The Carducci sound as one as its members blend cohesively and in the first movement Allegro they present the agreeable idea of conversational chattering. Variations and minuet are nicely contrasted while the visitors enter into the ebullient finale with positive gusto.

Shostakovich's 11th Quartet is far more serious. It was written in memory of one of the Beethoven Quartet who had a very personal alliance with the composer over many years.

While its seven linked movements have an elegiac quality, they can also be abrasive and rebellious as well as troubled and funereal. The Carducci's affinity with the music brings an insightful interpretation that is deeply moving and satisfying.

Joined by Guy Johnston, the group produces almost orchestral sonorities in the sweep of its performance of the Schubert. The master of melody surpasses himself here, especially in Adagio.

But like Beethoven, there is a rough and tumble side to Schubert and the musicians are not afraid to engage it in the hectic scherzo and the thrilling finale. Playing, previously rapt and expressive, is now vivacious and vital.

The festival continues at various venues until Sunday.

- Pat O'Kelly

Irish Independent

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