Hey Hey, My My, My Neil Young will never die! Yeah, I know it’s a cliché’ but still pretty true. And this is a night for cliché’s. Wearing scruffy jeans, an Aboriginal flag T-shirt and a work shirt, he kicks off with God Defend New Zealand (Neil always starts with a national anthem). And this paints the scene. Neil the troubadour, the balladeer has been left in the closet. Tonight it’s Neil Young the Crazy Horse! Accompanied by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina these four are one organic, massive jam unit bouncing off each other with the energy and experience of many years in the trenches. They’re one strongly bonded unit, who become even closer as the intensities increase, feeding off each other’s energy. Still, it’s like your dad and his mates after four beers playing in the garage on a hot afternoon – bad and grimy with over bloated and unnecessary solos, bad half concocted gags and obvious, sometimes grating feedback. This is Crazy Horse at their very best and we love it. Only a band this overweight, this old and this cool could pull it off.
Blast out a couple of tracks from the latest Psychedelic Pill (“Born In Ontario”, “Walk Like A Giant”). Then take Live Rust and Weld as your touchstone, add a few old numbers courtesy of Neil’s analogue time machine and some stonking blow outs and you’ve got a classic Neil Young show in all his ripped flannel ragged, glory!
Speaking of it, cast your mind back the Rust…days. Remember the road crew, dressed as Jawas crawling around the stage pre-curtain call? Well they’re still on duty, having grown up as reincarnations of the Doc from Back to the Future. They appear during the opening strains of the Beatles ‘A Day in the Life” show opener and noodle around dragging props and old pipe organ, on an off for effect. Several actually stay on for the whole show to twiddle the knobs of the huge, oversized Fender amps that are revealed in the opening track 1990’s “Love and Only Love” and from the first squeal Neil’s the stand over man torturing and strangling his guitar neck to squeeze the truth out it.
Despite the sold out crowd of mainly 50’s plus, the Crazies refuse to go pro, jamming up song after song as if none of us need to get home in time to catch the babysitter before she eats all the Toffee pops. There’s a sea of bald spots and glasses and, unlike Ed Sheeran teen fest last week, very few tiny i-phone screens glaring away in the dark. It was tempting to put a bomb to work, to get some response. But I guess, internally at least, they all were all pogo-ing around their own cerebral living rooms. Neil cracks a joke about how pre-tech he is and points at his battered pedal box as proof of his authenticity. With this as a cue he takes a moment to tease us about what track he’ll play next reciting off a lexicon of albums, accompanied by metallic cranking effects for his retro -chronometer till he finally settles on ‘Cinnamon Girl’ from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.
More teasing fools me into thinking I’m going to get my personal fav “Cortez the Killer” which is morphed into a sandstorm rendition of “Hurricane’, all showing those young whipper snappers just how it’s done. Because, let’s face it Neil invented ‘Grunge’ and still makes it better than any one else!
The encore, F*kin’ up was a contrived stuff up. A bad, embarrassing uncle joke intro to wrap up a stunning evening, complete with a protracted swear jar session towards the end and more improvised, muddy feedback guitar breaks. That’s what’s great about this band – they can just make it up as they go along, and have more fun than a drunken skinny dippin’ session in a Wall Street fountain. Pure mischief. Pure Crazy Horse. Pure entertainment. Thank God you finally made it, Neil.