Neil Young has never been one to stay on the beaten path.
He's an iconoclast who follows nobody. He does what he wants, when he wants and remains an unpredictable artist who has managed the rare feat of continuing to be fascinating, diverse and relevant for more than four decades while never latching on to a trend, fashion or fad.
It's been a long, winding, and sometimes confounding, journey, and once again the Twisted Road that is Young's life, and name of his current tour, brought him back to the Centennial Concert Hall Monday for the first of two shows in the city where he lived as a teenager and formed his first bands before moving to Toronto, and eventually Los Angeles, to follow his musical muse.
His last show in Winnipeg was an incendiary affair with a full band at the MTS Centre in October, 2008, but this time around it is just Young as it was the last time he played a solo show at the same venue in 1972.
And true to form, the 64-year-old was again offering something different for the sold-out crowd at the Concert Hall, some who paid $250 for the privilege, with a selection of new songs set for a forthcoming release mixed in with old favourites that have stood the test of time.
The stage was packed with an assortment of instruments and amps, including two pianos and a pump organ along with chandeliers and a wooden statue of an Aztec warrior.
Young walked onto the stage to a standing ovation, acknowledged the reception with a bow, sat down and immediately launched into an acoustic version of My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) off the 1979 classic Rust Never Sleeps.
He stayed on the acoustic guitar for Tell Me Why and a gorgeous version of Helpless before a trio of mellow new songs that showed off his storytelling skills starting with You Never Call, a melancholy ballad about the recent death of his friend Larry (L.A.) Johnson, who is now on vacation, according to Young.
"You're in heaven, we're working," he sang.
The crowd sat in rapt silence and hung on every world of Peaceful Valley, a twangy tale about the bloody settling of the American West and its environmental aftermath and the laidback Love and War, a topic he has explored numerous times over the years to great effect, even if he declares, "When I sing about love and war I don't really know what I'm singing."
He pulled out Old Black -- his 1953 Les Paul -- for a typically heavy and distorted version of the spine-chilling Down by the River and stayed in the zone for Hitchhiker, an autobiographical song he debuted in 1992, but has never officially released.
He strapped on his Gretsch White Falcon as he dismantled the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young staple Ohio and rebuilt it from the ground up sans harmonies, giving it a slight menacing vibe before another new one, Sign of Love, a melodic love song built on power chords.
Young didn't introduce any of the songs, new or old, and rarely acknowledged the crowd.
"This is a song for all the little people who couldn't be here tonight because they're too little," he said while seated at a piano for bouncy childhood ditty Leia.
To numerous shouts of "Neil we love you!" and, for whatever reason, just plain "Neil!" he said "I'm not really here," before sitting at the pump organ for a carnivalesque take on After the Gold Rush, then moving over to a grand piano for a stripped down I Believe in You.
It's impossible to know how the new songs will sound when they are officially released -- they could be the same or radically altered -- but one of the highlights of the new selections was Rumblin', a tense, unpredictable mid-tempo rocker that veered from atmospheric, throbbing verses that reverberated through the hall to a chugging chorus punctuated by occasional feedback.
It was that moment, something you wouldn't hear or feel clearly at a venue other than a theatre, that made last night's show special and should evoke the same feelings when Young returns to the concert hall to do it all again tonight.
Young finished the show with Cinnamon Girl, Old Man and Walk With Me.