The Music of Neil Young: Concert Review

A stellar collection of artists pay respectful tribute in this uneven charity concert.

When guest artists like Patti Smith, Cowboy Junkies, Aaron Neville and Joan Osborne delivered more unique interpretations of Young's classics, the evening really came to life.

It's fitting that the roster for The Music of Neil Young tribute concert at Carnegie Hall featured a roster of some 20 performers representing disparate musical styles. After all, this legendary performer has gone through nearly as many artistic shifts in his decades-long career.

The show -- produced by Michael Dorf and benefiting institutions ranging from music education programs to the American Symphony Orchestra -- was part of an annual series celebrating music greats. Although such honorees as R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe and Bruce Springsteen have made appearances in the past, this year's guest of honor was a no-show.

That is, unless you take Patti Smith's word that she "felt his presence" while waiting backstage to go on.

As with past entries, a stellar line-up of musicians was assembled, including Smith, the Cowboy Junkies, Aaron Neville, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin and Bettye LaVette.

Many of the performers delivered essentially faithful acoustic renditions of the mostly familiar songs, with fine if less than galvanizing results. Osborne ("Old Man"), the Wood Brothers ("Sugar Mountain"), Colvin ("Birds"), Glen Hansard ("Tell Me Why") and a barefooted Keller Williams ("Comes a Time") provided sensitively wrought vocals to their covers.

Others honored Young's more rocking side. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. was a natural choice to handle the searing guitar solos of "Cortez the Killer," while Devotcha delivered a rollicking "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." And Juliana Hatfield/Evan Dando and Jakob Dylan rocked out on "Cinnamon Girl" and "Southern Man" respectively.

Only when some of the artists delivered more unique interpretations did the evening really come to life: Bebel Gilberto infused "Harvest Moon" with a gorgeously languid, bossa nova approach; LaVette delivered a hauntingly soulful "Heart of Gold"; Neville lent his unique falsetto to "Helpless"; and Peter Yorn conveyed the urgency of "Rockin' in the Free World" with only an acoustic guitar. The Roots, who stole the show a few years ago with "Masters of War" at the Bob Dylan tribute, did it again, galvanizing the crowd with a funky version of "Down by the River" featuring lengthy instrumental solos.

To end the show, Smith, accompanied by her daughter Jesse on piano, sang a beautifully restrained rendition of "It's a Dream." It was followed by the inevitable group encore, with all of the artists jamming to "Ohio" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)."