Byline: Greg Kot
LONDON _ Neil Young stares out at the audience from behind his harmonica rack and acoustic guitar. Save for a half-dozen pillar candles, a collection of guitars and three keyboards, he is alone. It is the first of three concerts at the Apollo Theatre in London's West End two weeks ago, part of his first acoustic tour of Europe in 14 years.
He is talking about a stream of new music he is performing: 10 songs in a row from an as-yet-unreleased album, 105 minutes of uninterrupted exploration from a performer with a four-decade history of classic songs that he is doing his best to completely ignore. "I've never written songs like this before," Young is saying of his newest tunes. "I have no idea how this came along."
The audience titters. Young, at 57, is once again venturing into the wilderness of the new, the unexpected, the career-bending, and the audience is following, not sure they're going to enjoy the ride. But they are out in force for the first two shows of his London stand, the raggle-taggle army of Neil-freaks snapping up tickets that are selling for the American equivalent of $115. There are shaven-headed punks, pony-tailed hippies and at least one walking contradiction: a fist-pumping fan with a dark, Caribbean complexion who wears a Confederate flag dangling from his white denim jeans. They're joined by a good portion of London's rock royalty: Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, the dueling Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher, Spiritualized's Jason Pierce.
"They're here for the greatest hits," Young's longtime manager, Elliot Roberts, says before the show. "Boy, are they in for a surprise."
Young, dressed down as usual in jeans, T-shirt and brown …