Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Neil Young & Crazy Horse at Hyde Park

“& Crazy Horse” is the important bit from the title above. Neil Young is a fella who adopts many guises but you can be certain of one thing: when he joins up with Crazy Horse you know exactly what you are going to get.

And so it came to pass. Old Shakey thrashed away on Ol’ Black and his old muckers created a rolling, riffing wall of heavy electrical and percussive, mostly jammed, accompaniment for nearly all of the 2+ hours that they stalked the stage in a ramshackle, noisy, barely-in- time-and-tune show that epitomised their undoubted craft mastery. The absence of long-time Horse bassist Billy Talbot due to a recent stroke, replaced by Young’s “regular” bassist Rick Rosas for this tour made not a jot of difference to the cumulative effect created by Ralph Molina (guitar) and Frank Sampedro (drums). Even the solo numbers Young played where played semi-accoustically and with loads of distortion.

There is a strangeness about Neil Young on stage that defeats interpretation, if not observation: Neil Young is brilliant; Neil Young has a back catalogue of material to die for; Neil Young just oozes stage-presence; Neil Young has unique stage body language; he has complete freedom of choice about who, what and where he plays; he has a massive legion of fans many of whom who’d walk over broken glass to see him play; he was playing with his oldest and most trusted friends and collaborators… And yet…

I can’t help but wonder if he actually enjoys performing at all? There was zero humour, barely a smile from him and precious few spoken words throughout. Or at least none that I noticed on the big screens being far too far back to directly observe his facial expressions. A relatively cantankerous and wilfully difficult jamtastic show followed. “Truculence” should his middle name.

Which is no great surprise. That’s the way he does things and sometimes the self-indulgence and egotism results in moments of rare passion and glory that remain buzzing around your skull well after the event (like they did when I saw him at The Hop Farm) but on other occasions the messiness of it all doesn’t so much as disappoint but infuriate. It doesn’t need to be like this.

And this is the over-riding feeling I left the show with. It was good, really good in parts, but overall the effect was that the 50,000 or so souls in the audience were an irrelevance. Neil Young & Crazy Horse were not in attendance to please us but we were in attendance to enable them their fun – if fun it was. Their loyalty was not to us as paying customers but solely to each other and to hell with everything else.

The choice of songs chosen was odd. I’ve been listening to Neil Young records for over 30 tears now and, to be honest, even I struggled to recognise much more than half of the songs played! So much so, in fact, that I have had to look this up but the setlist was:

Love And Only Love
Goin' Home
Days That Used To Be
After The Gold Rush
Love To Burn
Separate Ways
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Blowin' In The Wind
Heart Of Gold
Barstool Blues
Psychedelic Pill
Cinnamon Girl
Rockin' In The Free World
Who's Gonna Stand Up And Save The Earth
Down By The River

Not that there was that much much difference between any of the Horsed-up versions of any of the songs and the cumulative effect was that it was all a bit samey.

So what were the highlights of the show? It’d have to be a truly epic Rockin’ In The Free World played as darkness descended and performed at breakneck speed with a couple of mega false endings unleashing a ferocity that even AC/DC would have been pleased with. After The Goldrush, sounding quite unlike any version of the song that I have ever heard before, was another stand out moment. It was also nice to actually recognise some of the other tunes (Cinnamon Girl, Blowing In The Wind) and to have a bit of a sing-song (Only Love Can Break Your Heart) but my honest feeling was that two encores consisting of a brand new song followed by 20 minutes of Down By The River as a closer was a bit much (then again I thought exactly the same about No Place To Hide at The Hop Farm).

I felt the opportunity to really unleash The Horse was missed. I’d’ve loved to have heard Like A Hurricane, Southern Man, Cortez The Killer, Hey Hey My My, Powderfinger, Farmer John, Fuckin’ Up, Welfare Mothers, Piece Of Crap… or many others but that was not to be.

If that all sounds a bit grumbly… well it is. But that’s what Neil Young does and what he has always done and it’s how I saw it. He performs pretty much for himself and not for the audience (I wonder what the paying punters thought of the feedback fest that was released as Arc as a companion piece to the the excellent live Weld?) which is genuinely selfish but that self-indulgence also, sometimes, results in moments of genuine unsurpassed excellence that once edited down a bit and trimmed to fit onto 12” of vinyl resembles genius and you can’t have one without the other.

I’ve been to see Neil Young in concert three times now and of the three I would place this gig third. Would I go to see him again? Yes, but not if he was touring with Crazy Horse despite considering myself to be a massive of fan of both his and theirs. The Hop Farm gig was far better despite the Hyde Park gig being blessed with far better weather! (Man it was hot. Very hot. 80 deg F hot. And sticky. Very sticky. God knows what the humidity was.)

For reference: Neil Young at the Hop Farm


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