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- Posted on Feb 19th 2010 3:00PM by Jenny Charlesworth
Rumours swirled that the iconic singer-songwriter might make a surprise appearance Thursday night, but despite his absence, the sensational lineup featuring Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Iron and Wine, Metric's Emily Haines and Broken Social Scene co-founders Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew, among others, easily held the audience captive as they performed re-imagined Neil Young classics during the most-anticipated event of the Cultural Olympiad.
Taking to a stage draped in billowing white fabric and littered with enough gear to outfit a recording studio, artists offered up sentimental renditions of iconic tracks "Walk On" (aced by Arts & Crafts mainstay Jason Collett) and "Harvest Moon" (reimagined by Brendan Canning) under the watchful eye of artistic direction Hal Willner, who is perhaps most famous for his role as music supervisor on Saturday Night Live.
Costello's first number of the night, a lounge-y take on the heart-stricken ballad "Love in Mind," set the bar high for the rest of the group, as did the moody version of "Helpless" performed by legendary New York rocker Lou Reed, who was greeted by booming "Looouuuuuu" chants the moment he appeared on stage sporting, unsurprisingly, a black leather jacket.
While some songs favoured sparse instrumentation, or none at all, like the show-stopping spoken-word rendition offered up for "On the Way Home" by Eric Mingus (son of jazz legend Charles Mingus), other covers enlisted the talents of the Broken Social Scene fronted-backing band and string section to transform once-subdued material into boisterous jams.
There were plenty of magical moments throughout the evening, including the rousing cover of "Don't Let It Bring You Down" by Elizabeth Powell from Land of Talk/Broken Social Scene, which was belted out with jaw-dropping intensity. The impromptu audience-made "thunderstorm" mid-way through "Walk On," which Collett orchestrated with the zeal of a camp counsellor by directing the packed house to snap their fingers and stomp their feet, was another show-stopper.
The highlight of the affair, however, was undoubtedly Costello's hard rocking "Cinnamon Girl," which garnered the first standing ovation of the evening. Showcasing his formidable guitar skills, the talented UK expat led the ensemble to a blistering climax, giving the enraptured audience in the majestic theatre ample reason to applaud Costello's addition to the bill after the initial lineup was announced.
The Neil Young Project concludes tonight with a second performance from its ensemble cast. Will this be the night the folk hero makes an appearance? No one's talking.