The desire for relevancy beckons the artist. The present moment continually challenges consciousness to work with care for contemporary concerns. Musicians whose creative spirit can adapt to the times are afforded the ability to alter perspectives, to change minds. Neil Young cultivates truth in his songs; lyrics sung, then settled by the strum of a guitar. Even when the subject matter is unsettling, Young makes beauty out of understanding. His words and voice are straightforward, and his playing sturdy and confident. He represents a highly relatable, highly skilled simplicity, turning folk music into something timeless instead of old-timey. Young will sing about anything that matters to him, in the present tense, no matter his age or health, plain enough for anyone to understand. Direct communication is invaluable, yet continually taken for granted by artists in favor of abstraction. But ambiguity isn’t inherently meaningful. One has to work for meaning by engaging an audience of thoughtful listeners, of real people. Bound together by language and expression, community coalesces where the mix between artist and audience is right. There’s no faking the success of that chemistry; everyone involved can testify, they know how they feel. That’s the feeling that Neil Young has been chasing his entire career, often hitting the right equilibrium, pushing the listener as much as he’s been pulled by their expectations. The hallmark of Young’s success is his willingness to respond. Be it gigging with Crazy Horse or plugging Pono, the ever-present quality that Neil has claimed for more than half a century has less to do with a specific technique or a particular project, and more to do with the sense of urgency with which he commits himself. Neil Young’s presence is unmistakable; it would be a mistake to miss it when he’s here in town. (Kenneth Preski)
April 21 and 22 at Chicago Theatre, 175 North State, (312)462-6300. 8pm. $43.50-$353.50. All ages.