NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
ADELAIDE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE
TUESDAY MARCH 5, 2013
By Brian Wise
Their awesome Australian shows!
After seeing Neil Young & Crazy Horse with 75,000 others at Austin’s ACL Fest late last year – in what I described as a ‘monumental’ show – I was certainly looking forward to seeing them just five months later in a more ‘intimate’ arena setting.
I have been searching for any word other than awesome to describe the Adelaide show last night but that is what it was – Young & Crazy Horse in full flight for two-and-a-half hours! It was also L-O-U-D – as a rock concert should be. (Bring earplugs if you are sensitive to noise).
Of the fourteen songs in the set list there were four selections from Psychedelic Pill (their latest album) and two brand new, never-recorded songs. So, nearly half a set list of material less than six months old. Is there any other veteran musician brave enough to do that? Would they get out the arena alive if they did? That is one measure of Young’s greatness.
In his autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, Young writes at length about the special nature of his relationship with the three members of Crazy Horse and it is immediately evident on stage. As he says, there is an indefinable magic that just doesn’t happen for him in any other combination.
These days, of course, any Neil Young show is an ‘experience’ and his theatrical bent was in evidence too. The concert was preceded by the sight of what appeared to be technicians dressed in lab coats, in animated discussion about the set that included huge speaker and road case facades. It took a few minutes to work out that these, in fact, were not mad scientists but roadies and that this was also part of the show.
After The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ blasted out of the PA, Young wandered almost casually on stage dressed as usual in Aboriginal flag t-shirt – ‘My favourite shirt’, he told us later. Joined by Crazy Horse they all stood at attention as the Australian national anthem was played.
Of course, I knew basically what to expect – a loud electric show framed around the Psychedelic Pill double CD – but that was way more than some of the people sitting around me knew. The chap next to me hoped that Neil would do a lot of songs from Harvest (the only Young album he owned) and was surprised when I suggested that might not happen (he did do ‘Heart Of Gold’ to rapturous applause).
Then, after Young played a new song someone yelled out, ‘This is boring, play your old songs!’) Some people still just don’t get it. Not that Young is too concerned. As he has written, he has the urge to constantly move on. Luckily, there are enough of his fans who have also moved on.
‘Love And Only Love’ (from Ragged Glory) opened the concert but, unlike Austin, where it was nine minutes into the song before he sang, Young abbreviated the start and it was a lot shorter than the 15-minute plus version that I saw last year.
Still, it was evident immediately that the interplay between Young and Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro is a crucial aspect – and maybe the reason Young is out on tour. As the evening unfolded that interplay seemed to energise Young and embolden the performance.
Young and Sampedro never play the same parts exactly the same way twice. Some of the touches that Sampedro lent to the extended songs, and Young’s response to these, reminded me of the way great jazz groups operate. Think Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing in a rock band! Why would you go and see Young more than once on this tour, as many of us are doing? Because you will never hear the same song played exactly the same way twice. (If you want to hear Harvest, play it on your CD player at home).
A rousing version of ‘Powerfinger’ followed, rough around the edges but capturing the spirit of the song. Its message is still valid. Young sounded impassioned and breathed new life into the classic.
It is amazing how the songs from Psychedelic Pill have assimilated so well into the set list and Young treated us to what he called ‘a personal story’ with ‘Born In Ontario’ from Psychedelic Pill before launching into one of the epics from the recording, ‘Walk Like A Giant.’ Drummer Ralph Molina has to hit the skins as hard any other drummer in rock music.
The song is extended and distended until it stretches to nearly half an hour! With its apocalyptic message it begins with a jaunty whistle and comes to a shuddering close with a wall of noise. (I am sure there is a message in that!). As I said last year, the band becomes a huge, thundering beast trampling everything before it.
As a contrast, and perhaps following from the message of the previous song, Young sang a brand new song ‘Hole In The Sky’ before donning harmonica and picked up acoustic guitar to play ‘Heart Of Gold’ – much to the joy of some, including the guy next to me who insisted on singing along for the entire song!
Bob Dylan, who hates sing-alongs (and now I understand why) was referenced in the next song, ‘Twisted Road’ – another autobiographical piece – before Young sat at the piano for another new ballad, the beautiful ‘Singer Without A Song’ (during which a woman with a guitar case (Peggy?) wandered across stage as if to illustrate the point).
Then it was back to guitar central for the lengthy ‘Ramada Inn,’ before Young invoked his time machine, with special sound effects, to go back to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and ‘Cinammon Girl.’
Perhaps the surprise of the night was an extended version of ‘Fuckin’ Up’ with Frank Sampedro improvising lyrics, singing doo wop at one point, and the audience encouraged to sing the line ‘why does he keep fuckin’ up?’ back to Neil. It was kind of cheesy but funny.
A great, rocking ‘Mr Soul’, another obvious crowd favourite, led into a fabulous and grungy version of ‘Hey Hey My, My (into The Black), the final song.
The encore of ‘Like A Hurricane’ was also an unexpected treat and was elongated to the point where you felt that Young just did not want it to end. There were more false endings than a TV drama series. Billy Talbot knelt and placed his bass next to the speaker to extract more feedback, while Young placed his (with shredded strings) against another. Unfortunately, after 15 minutes, it did end after Young intoned the line ‘once I thought I saw you’ and gave it a dreamlike sonic quality. Stunning.
If you have tickets for upcoming shows then expect to be thrilled. If you haven’t then, go get some now. In Victoria, Young plays three quite distinctly different venues – Rod Laver Arena, a winery and the smaller The Plenary (expect him to blow the roof off this).
I’ll think of a better word to describe Neil Young & Crazy Horse live but for now ‘awesome’ will just have to do!
Love & Only Love
Born In Ontario
Walk Like A Giant
Hole In The Sky (new)
Heart Of Gold
Singer Without A Song (new)
Hey Hey My My
Encore: Like A Hurricane