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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Neil Young: One Show Well Worth Our Time and Money

Neil Young with Crazy Horse in concert in September.Julie Glassberg for The New York TimesNeil Young with Crazy Horse in concert in September.

Like most families, we try to keep a tight rein on discretionary spending. But when I heard that the musician Neil Young would be touring with the band Crazy Horse, I decided that if he played anywhere near where we live, we'd certainly buy tickets.

Mr. Young may be an acquired taste for some (one of my college roommates, unfortunately, never appreciated him, nor my incessant playing of his albums). But I've never had that problem. His guitar sound often strikes me as a rock version of bagpipes - chilling and exciting, yet plaintive at the same time. I was a mere child when he arrived on the scene in the '60s, but his 1979 album with Crazy Horse, “Rust Never Sleeps,” provided much of the soundtrack to my college years. I have seen him perform live twice and each time came away awed at his talent and energy.

Which is how we came to drive two hours on Sunday to Tulsa, Okla., to a stop on his current tour within striking distance of our home in Northwest Arkansas. Even though we were seeing the concert in a smaller market and the tickets were relatively reasonable, the total cost of the outing was likely to reach nearly $400 - about what I was lucky to make in a week during my early years of Neil Young fandom. So our expectations were high.

Here's the rundown: two midrange tickets (about $120), a pub dinner before the concert ($45), two T-shirts ($60), two beers at the show ($15), gas and parking ($30) and a babysitter who came early, then stayed until we arrived home in the wee hours of Monday morning (another $120.)

When we arrived in Tulsa, we w ere a bit concerned. Instead of the city's gleaming Bok Center, Mr. Young was playing in a much smaller (and older) convention center. It promised a more intimate setting, but, as my husband noted, it appeared one step removed from a high-school hockey arena, with narrow corridors and stingy restroom capacity.

And aside from a few people with children in tow, the crowd was exceedingly … mature. Even as Mr. Young, 66, has aged, he has managed â€" or so we had thought - to recruit new, younger fans, with his unflagging enthusiasm and creativity. So where were they? We began to worry. Had Mr. Young become an oldies act? Was he reduced to playing recycled hits at second-rate sites? Were we doomed to an evening of disappointment and then a bleary-eyed drive home?

When the lights dimmed, however, our fears were immediately put to rest. Hulking over his wailing guitar like a deranged rag doll, Mr. Young put artists a quarter of his age to shame by playing hard for two and a half hours. The set mixed songs from his soon-to-be released album with Crazy Horse with older hits (“Cinnamon Girl,” “The Needle and the Damage Done”). I might have replaced one of his longer, distorted-guitar solos with one of the revamped folk standards from his recent “Americana” album, which oddly failed to make the set list. But that's just nitpicking. The second song of the show was one of my favorites, “Powderfinger.” That, by itself, was worth the price of my ticket.

All in all, we agreed on the long drive back in the dark, it was an evening that was (phew!) worth both the time and money spent.

How do you decide what entertainment to spend money on? Have you ever been disappointed by a big-ticket show?