1. He’s always breaking new ground. Young goes where no star has gone before. The four solo concerts he’ll play this week in four Minneapolis theaters is the coolest Twin Cities engagement since Prince played the old downtown Macy’s, Target Center and First Avenue on the same day, 7/7/07.
2. Sweet and ragin’. The rock god with the screechy voice and blissfully screechier guitar can play it soft and sweet (“Harvest Moon,” “Lotta Love”), ragin’ and rockin’ (“Down by the River,” “Mr. Soul”), solo or kicking butt with a band. After his gigs in Minneapolis, he’ll head to Winnipeg and crank it to 11 with his longtime trio, Crazy Horse.
3. Irrepressible. He not only doesn’t act his age, but he seems unstoppable. “He’s a relentless pursuer of his teenage dream,” says Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, who has known Young since they played in teen bands in Winnipeg. “I’ve seen him play with a dislocated hip, with a broken back with a back brace, with a brain aneurysm.”
4. Next-gen sidemen. Young relishes opportunities to collaborate with younger musicians. If it wasn’t already clear that he was the godfather of grunge when he hooked up with Pearl Jam in the 1990s (both on record and in concert), he underscored the notion in recent years by working with Promise of the Real, a band of 20-somethings featuring Willie Nelson’s son Lukas.
5. Sales be damned. He follows his muse regardless of commercial potential. See the electronica-flavored “Trans” (1982), the rockabilly “Everybody’s Rockin’” (1983), the live guitar-noise collection “Arc” (1991), the rock opera “Greendale” (2003), about corruption and environmentalism in a small town, and the animal- sound-filled “Earth” (2016), to name just a few.
6. Restless innovator. He’s continually looking for alternatives, whether it’s energy — he converted a 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric car he dubbed the LincVolt — or music; see “Xstream by NYA,” his streaming service, and mourn Pono, his high-res digital portable music player that was discontinued after being sold to Apple in 2017.
7. Protest singer. Just as he did back in the day with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, responding to the Kent State killings with “Ohio,” Young doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind about the world through song. He’s amassed quite a catalog of protest music. Check out 2016’s “Peace Trail,” 2015’s “The Monsanto Years” and 2006’s “Living With War” as well as such singular songs as “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “This Note’s for You,” in which he decried concert sponsorships. He has even sounded conservative notes, as evidenced on the 1979 song “Welfare Mothers” or his post-9/11 patriotic cry “Let’s Roll.”
8. True activist. He puts time and money where his mouth is. In 1985, he co-founded Farm Aid with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp to assist family farmers, and he’s appeared at every one of the organization’s fundraising festivals since. In 1986, his then-wife Pegi Young established the Bridge School for children with severe speech and physical disabilities, and he headlined and organized benefit concerts annually through 2016.
9. Standout webmaster. He may be 73 but he has one of the most creative, fan-rewarding websites of any musician. NeilYoungArchives.com features unreleased music for streaming, a series of live albums, a year-by-year musical history, essays by Young, movie clips, news, concert information and more. For a $20 membership fee, you get upgrades and early access to concert tickets.
10. Hyper-prolific. He’s released 44 albums under his own name, not to mention all his work with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. And he’s refused to slow down. So far this century, he has issued 15 studio LPs, 11 archival albums (mostly live discs), three boxed sets of old material, one movie soundtrack and one live record of a recent performance.
11. Forever changing. Like Bob Dylan, Young seems to morph musically from one project to the next, making each album a must-listen because the potential for greatness is always there. Similarly, expect a different set list each night in Minneapolis.
12. A fan named Bob. When Dylan name-checks you in a song — as he did in 1997’s “Highlands,” singing “I’m listening to Neil Young/ I gotta turn up the sound” — you are forever cool.