Although he turns 70 next month, Neil Young’s nowhere close to retirement. The past few years have seen a huge amount of activity for the already prolific rocker/folker: He's launched his controversial Pono music player, divorced his wife and taken up with a very famous actress girlfriend, written a pair of memoirs, recorded a handful of new albums of wildly varying quality, and taken on a new backing band. That band, Promise of the Real, appear on Young’s newest recording, The Monsanto Years, and join him on his current tour, which stopped in Portland on Wednesday night for a show at the University of Portland’s dome-shaped basketball arena.

Against odds, the Chiles Center turned out to be a pretty great place to see the 69-year-old folker/rocker, allowing for better sightlines than the Schnitz and for better sound than the cavernous Keller, the downtown auditoriums where Neil performed his previous two Portland shows. While the Chiles Center’s concession stand didn’t get the memo about Young’s anti-Starbucks stance—and, to the chagrin of many of the grizzled rockers in attendance, didn’t serve a drop of beer—the layout of the room allowed for the entire crowd (which I estimated to be somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000) to all be relatively close to the music.

And it was a phenomenal performance. Young was in fantastic voice throughout the night, but more than that, he seemed fully invigorated by his much younger backing band, staging a career-spanning show that began in a quiet acoustic format, then unfurled over the course of nearly three hours into volcanic, earsplitting rock. It was undoubtedly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen by Young, who I’ve seen close to 20 times over the years.

It didn’t start off auspiciously, though. The opener was a gospel/performance-art/activist ensemble called Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, which seemed like a bad musical theater troupe on an off-night. With the promise of many, many songs about Monsanto to come in Young’s set, I feared that we’d be in for a full night of being lectured about the evils of consumerism and big-scale agriculture.

Fortunately, Young erased any lingering dread by starting his set with his biggest hits. Opening with “After the Gold Rush” almost unseen behind a stage-right piano, he then plowed through “Heart of Gold,” “Comes a Time,” and “Old Man,” silencing request-yellers before they even had a chance to pipe up. As Promise of the Real joined their aged leader onstage, some light theater ensued, as a team of roadies wandered the stage in hazmat suits, blowing fumes that were probably supposed to represent Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide. There were echoes of the Jawas/roadies from Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour, as well as the community-theater theatrics that accompanied his 1986 Rusted-Out Garage tour and 2003’s Greendale extravaganza. But that was it—for the rest of the night, Young allowed his music to be responsible for all the drama. (Speaking of past tours, Young's camp announced this morning that the heavily bootlegged 1988 Bluenotes tour will finally see a live album; Bluenote Cafe comes out November 13.)

Promise of the Real—whose ranks contain two of Willie Nelson’s offspring, guitarists Lucas and Micah Nelson—ably clipped along to a short set of Young’s folk-country nuggets, featuring prairie ballads like Harvest’s “Out on the Weekend” and the gorgeous, rarely heard “Western Hero” from 1994’s Sleeps with Angels. It also featured one of the Nelsons taking the vocal mic for a rendition of "September Song," a slightly drippy Kurt Weill song that Papa Willie famously did on 1978's Stardust; Nelson the lesser sounded eerily like his old man as Young took Trigger's part on acoustic guitar. Young then strapped on his Gretsch White Falcon, turning up the juice for a rambling “Words,” a slightly-too-slow rendition of “Walk On,” and an absolutely gorgeous “Winterlong,” which felt haunted by the ghost of Young’s longtime collaborator, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith.

When Young picked up his black Les Paul, though, the show turned thunderous. This was when he played the bulk of his new Monsanto Years material, and it got off to a rocky start with “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop,” perhaps the worst song out of the new batch. But “Big Box,” another new one, absolutely ripped, unquestionably one of the best and biggest highlights in a highlight-heavy show. Its somewhat purple lyrics could easily be forgotten when Young and his Promisers engaged in its fierce, burning instrumental sections, which were plentiful and lengthy. Young played less to the crowd than to his fellow musicians, who huddled in a tight scrum that counterpointed the intensely huge sound they made. A song even newer than The Monsanto Years, called “I Won’t Quit," made an eager appearance—a short, choppy snarler, it succinctly captures Young’s current M.O.

He saved the true cataclysm for the set’s final song, a whopping, elemental version of “Love and Only Love” that seemed to stretch on for nearly 30 minutes. Delving into free-form avant-noise with Young simultaneously summoning and exorcising the shrieking demons from his ancient Gibson, it was an absolutely riveting thing to witness. When the song reached its final wrenching chorus, Young, without saying a word, led his cohorts into a long extended coda of sustained notes, feedback, intermittent crashes of noise, periods of silence, and echoing thunder. Reminiscent of the live recordings that sourced Young's 1990 experimental album Arc, it was absolutely stunning and almost painfully suspenseful. It was proof that Young, despite the recent criticism he’s received for his many projects and the tabloid-feeding developments in his personal life, doesn’t need to answer to anybody on a musical level. His gifts remain undeniable and undiminished.

The band returned for a short encore of a rave-up version of “Fuckin’ Up,” before Young bid the crowd goodnight. “I like what you’ve done with the place,” he said mysteriously. “We’ll be back.” Let’s hope so, and soon.