While it’s no surprise at this point that two very wide swaths of musicians count Neil Young as an influence, it is a bit of a shock how often the bristly icon crosses paths with his musical offspring.
First, you have rough-sounding rock bands, attracted to a man who angrily went electric in the 1970s. Sonic Youth opened for Young in the late 1980s, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder presented Young with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Those links helped turn him into the godfather of grunge.
Then there are the singer-songwriters, drawn to a sentimental guy who warbles about his search for a heart of gold. That’s where bands like Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie enter the picture. The group, one of the Northwest’s biggest success stories in recent memory, opened for the legend at Comcast Arena on Tuesday night.
While Death Cab debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in May, the group clearly wasn’t the main draw. There was no mass exodus after its set, as the vast majority of fans, both young and old, sat tight for Young.
Drawing from his rock and folk catalogues, the 62-year-old Young performed a spry set that seemed structured to please everyone in the crowd of about 6,000.
Young opened with “Love and Only Love,” off the 1990 disc “Ragged Glory.” Looking energized, he would lurch over his guitar like an aide to Frankenstein, throwing himself into the electric guitar, bringing the song to life.
He moved right into the 1979 standout “My My, Hey Hey (Into the Blue),” a song quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note.
“It’s better to burn out than fade away,” Young sang. As he tore out noisy solos, it felt clear he didn’t mean you had to choose between the two.
Jumping back another decade, he played “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” a folk number that got the amped-up treatment.
The crowd ate it all up. Even his new song “Spirit Road,” a fairly by-the-numbers classic rock track off 2007’s “Chrome Dreams II,” had people on their feet.
Young would have been impossible to follow, which of course is why Death Cab for Cutie took the stage earlier. The receptive hometown crowd greeted the band with cheers, but no ovation.
Death Cab last appeared in the area as a headliner, closing the final night of Bumbershoot 2008. However, the band seemed comfortable in the opening slot, shooting through its 55-minute set.
The group crammed in 12 songs, trotting out hit singles such as the art-rock jam “I Will Possess Your Heart” and fan favorites, including the sprawling “Transatlanticism.”
During most, singer Ben Gibbard jittered back and forth like a busy little metronome, turning midtempo numbers into bouncing rockers.
Only once did he truly slow. Under a single spotlight, he played the bleak love song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” dedicating it to Young.
As the band wound down its set, guitarist Chris Walla — formerly of Bothell — gave one last knowing nod to the crowd, thanking Snohomish County by name.
While Young did plenty, he didn’t do that.
Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.