Tuesday, October 30, 2012

[Rec] 2 (2009)

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

I rewatched [Rec] in anticipation of viewing the sequel, and I was reminded of just how good that movie is. It's terrifying, intelligent, and really action-packed - I was surprised it clocks in at under an hour and a half because it doesn't feel that short. But I guess time slows down when you're trapped in a horrific situation and you just can't get out.

So then I watched the sequel, and I have to say, [Rec] is just so brilliant that it's impossible not to be interested in its sequel when the setup of the first movie is as brilliant as it is. But, standing on its own, the quality of [Rec] 2 drops considerably from the first movie. It's terrifying enough, sure, and there is a lot of action - maybe even more than in the first one. But as a movie, it's just not as intelligent.

I mean, it's like they grabbed the script from a fanfic site. The elements in this movie are "cool", but the premise takes a huge drop in believability. I mean, one of the smartest parts of the first [Rec] was the explanation for the disease - that it was a contagious variation of the condition known among the superstitious as demonic possession, created by accident while trying to find an antidote for the disease.

The brilliance there is that the film is still rooted in reality - and actually provides a compelling and original scientific explanation for demonic possession. In [Rec] 2, which picks up immediately after the events of [Rec], instead of a health advisor, they send a priest in to the quarantined building (albeit disguised as a health advisor). Now, yeah, that's a really cool premise - priest goes in to kick some demonic ass with his magic prayers and crucifixes - but it's a fantasy premise. The moment he sticks that crucifix on the door and the infected trapped inside backs off ("singlehandedly proving Christianity", as an IMDb user puts it), the story loses its plausibility.

Not to say that the filmmakers are wrong for taking the story in this direction - who's to say that there was much more of a story to tell while keeping it pinned to reality - but the result is a much less unique and standout film. Actually, it feels a lot more like a video game (especially with the SWAT team's FPS-like perspective), which even the first [Rec] was obviously inspired by, but this one seems to draw too heavily on.

And there are other problems with it, as well. The characters are less likable, and one thing I've discovered is that, realistic or not (and I couldn't say which is more likely), people freaking out completely and yelling at each other isn't a whole lot of fun to watch in a movie. Yeah, it creates good tension in a heightened moment, but if they just keep going at it constantly, it wears you down, and you start wanting to tell them to just shut the fuck up, cool down, and stop shouting.

And then you have these stupid kids which are a total brainless cliche - hell, I'll admit the idea of what goes on in [Rec] is fascinating, but what kind of an idiot would I have to be to walk through the sewers to sneak in to a building under government quarantine? And then of course they change their minds and start crying only after it's too late.

The girl was actually smart, and knew it was a bad idea - I think they put her in so the audience could sympathize - but when she was about to walk away, not giving in to peer pressure, suddenly the camera skips ahead and she's following them through the sewers. Yeah, I don't know what to say, but that just totally smacks of the writers going, "I don't know how the fuck we're going to get this character to follow these guys so let's just skip over that part and force it to happen..."

[Rec] 2 also opens up the story a little bit by featuring more than one camera. I thought that was interesting, and provided some variety to the story (and helped to introduce new characters and new angles), although I think the one-camera perspective of [Rec] definitely works in its favor. Of course, after the first camera dies, when the second is just about to run out of batteries, and there, camgirl from the first [Rec] shows up out of nowhere, holding on to her camera like some holy grail - it just felt so incredibly fabricated, it's one of those details that really detracts from the realism.

Like the infected victims this time around. Again, it's actually cool that they behave more like demonic possessees as we know them, but again it detracts from their realism. Another of the things I really liked about [Rec] was how realistically the 'monsters' were treated - almost like you could believe they were just humans possessed of a hysterical aggression. Here, they're crawling on the ceiling and spitting in priests' faces.

And do I even need to mention the ridiculous 'magic' that changes the structure of physical reality depending on whether light is shining on it or not? Or how a person literally wasted away to skin and bones could wield a hammer? Or how the frightened reporter from the first movie becomes an action hero in this one? Or this movie's explanation for that change, which involves a giant worm passed orally, which apparently is the source of demonic possession, with telekinetic powers to influence other bodies infected by the virus (why is the virus even necessary if the demon has supernatural powers)? And oh god, the rocket attack...

No, no, I'll leave all of that stuff alone...

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Atrocious (2010)

Warning: this review contains spoilers. Huge spoilers.

Atrocious is one of those rare films that didn't develop in the direction I was hoping for, but instead of disappointment, spark appreciation because the direction it did develop in was very intriguing. It's a pretty standard found footage premise: kids film their exploration of the woods in search of a country legend - in this case, the "woods" is a garden maze type labyrinth (excellent idea!), and the legend is about the ghost of some girl that shows lost travelers the way home, but might be decidedly less altruistic (and less human) going by different variations of the legend.

Awesome, right? The labyrinth was an excellent choice of location for a film like this, even though I ultimately feel that they didn't use it to its full potential (which, on the other hand, leaves room for other filmmakers - even Stanley Kubrick fell short on the hedge maze in The Shining). But one thing this movie emphasizes is how a mildly confusing maze in the daytime can turn into a hellish deathtrap at night when you're in a panic.

Everything in this movie was leading toward (at least in my mind) the revelation of some kind of demonic beast in that maze - which is what I was hoping for that I didn't get. I guess the whole thing about the girl ghost was a total red herring - which makes for great realism. How often does a team go into the woods to film some supernatural encounter and actually find what they're looking for? I mean, in the real world, not in the movies? And what really happened is actually fairly plausible (certainly not common, but within the realm of extreme possibility, and certainly easier to swallow than some kind of demonic minotaur).

Now, normally, I would take the (huge spoiler!) revelation of the mother as the killer rather than any paranormal entity with great disappointment (and I am still somewhat disappointed - come on, a demonic minotaur!), but something about the way this movie is presented made me realize something. We hear about terrible stories where people go psychotic and kill their families - and certainly scenarios like that are depicted often in horror movies. But we always see it with the Hollywood sheen. With the deceit of fantasy.

But this time, presented as a found footage film (even if nobody is actually fooled into thinking it's real anymore), it's like we're actually in the shoes of the victims, getting to experience what it's like to actually have this tragedy unfold in front of you, and not a dramatized narrative told after the fact. And, it drives home the fact of just how terrifying an experience like that can be. Running around in the dark. Screaming. Having the power shut off unexpectedly. People bleeding. Finding corpses in unexpected places. (Gosh, sounds like a typical slasher setup!). And not knowing what's going on - without certainty, you could even entertain the notion that the cause is supernatural in your panic.

And yeah, I guess that sounds pretty horrifying - but after all, isn't that what we watch horror movies for? I know I do. People might complain about how modern trends (especially the found footage format) are driving horror films to their obvious conclusion - indistinguishable simulations of snuff films. But again, what is horror for? It is a fantasy - not reality - but a simulation of horrible things that occur (and many things that don't occur, thankfully) in real life. It's removed from real life - though just enough - so that we can live vicariously through them. And if you don't understand the appeal of that, then you don't get horror. That's fine, but I shudder to think of the assumptions often made about people who do.

The only thing I have left to say about Atrocious is that it's left me feeling all the more hungry for a found footage film that really does use a monster - a real monster. Has there ever been one? Trollhunter, for example, was a good movie, but the trolls were more like scary animals than horror monsters. Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County comes close, but the aliens there are too calm, too intelligent - not beastly enough. Something like a Xenomorph, or The Thing, filmed from an iphone so that the seams are unnoticeable and it's all the more frightening would be good. Something like Carnosaur. That would be great. Or something paranormal, but with a very physical demonic manifestation. But not too human-like, as vampires and zombies are frequently depicted. Something with a tinge of the Lovecraftian perhaps. Hmm...

The House of the Devil (2009)

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

I must be really particular about Satanism, because instead of what this film does right - and it does a lot of things right - I find myself fixating on what it does wrong. The movie has a truly fantastic premise - a girl is lured to a creepy house in the woods on the pretenses of accepting a babysitting job, only to become the focus of a Satanic ritual during a lunar eclipse. The movie has a fantastic atmosphere, the girl is realistic and likable, and the creepy old man is characterized very intriguingly.

So what does it do wrong? Well, for starters, even though I appreciate the slow, building atmosphere, it gets pretty tedious after a while. There was a point before the climax hit that the girl was taking yet another round of the house, and as she began slowly walking up the stairs again, I thought to myself, where's the fast forward button? This movie is called The House of the Devil, so you better give me some devils fast, or else you should rather have titled the movie "Creepy House in the Woods".

For a movie that does a great job of creating a realistic atmosphere, some things stood out to me, like how the girl starts getting bizarrely paranoid all of a sudden - to the point of grabbing a knife to carry around the house with her. And the fact that she got drugged after a single bite of 'tainted' pizza - what was the point of showing her noticing the strange taste and rejecting the pizza if the drug has already taken effect anyway? And if I were a Satanist on the night of a lunar eclipse, my ritual depending on the drugging of an unsuspecting girl, I wouldn't put all my bets on a plan as convoluted as a pizza delivery - what if the girl didn't decide to eat pizza? What if she didn't even like pizza? (I know, I know, all college kids love pizza...)

As the movie wore on, I was starting to fear that there wasn't going to be a payoff. Thankfully, I was wrong about that. Still, the Satanic ritual that I had been waiting for all movie long left a lot to be desired. Firstly, I could understand putting some kind of ritual dress on the sacrifice. If I were a Satanist, I'd strip her nude, but I'll make an allowance for that. But panties? What the hell good is a Satanist if he's going to be modest? That's the great thing about devil-worshippers, that's what makes them so alluring, so much naughty fun - they're not tied down to ridiculous notions of chastity and purity.

And hell, what's the deal with an impregnation ritual not involving any sex? That's one thing Roman Polanski got right. I know that God impregnates virgins without conception, but this is the freaking devil, man! The horned god loves the ole lusty act. If I were a Satanist, I'd probably throw out all the violence and icky blood play anyway - because what's fun about that? But you can bet I'd leave all the kinky sex stuff in. I mean, even take the college dorm couple at the beginning of the movie - I won't fault the film for not showing them having sex, that's not really necessary to the plot, but even afterward, they were slumped together in bed, and they both had shirts on (everything else was under the covers). Really? This is freaking college for fuck's sake!

Anyway, the part when the friend is sitting in the car and the guy comes up with the lighter and - that was an excellent scene. A real "oh shit" moment. I loved that. But then in the end, I had a hard time believing the lead girl would actually shoot herself - boy, didn't take her long to start believing all that superstition. And yet, she had to survive, because, you know, that's the cliche, after all. I don't want to make it sound like this movie missed all the beats - because it really does a lot right, and it's really pretty creepy. I just, I guess I'm bored of people using the theme of Satanism - an excellent theme for a horror movie - and particularly the specific theme of Satanic ritual abuse, and just not doing the idea justice.

I mean, we've seen enough damsels in distress, subjected to the whims of Satan and his crazy followers. When the girl broke free (you would really make her restraints that easy to escape from?), I was thinking, here we go. Girl escapes and wins the day against those crazy Satanists. For once, can't we just have a movie that shows what the Satanists do, when things go according to plan, and what the ritual is supposed to be like? Can we see it from the Satanists' point of view? Can we see why it might be tempting? You know, instead of just this insane thing that people do because they're beholden to Satan. That's the Satanic ritual abuse movie I'd really like to see.

But until someone has the guts to make that movie, this one's not all that bad.

Disclaimer: I am not a Satanist. I don't even believe in Satan. :p

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Warning: I don't know what you've heard about this one, but the following review contains spoilers.

Overrated. Groundbreaking? I don't think so. It's clever, no doubt. A good idea. But a good movie? As a horror fan, watching it is like getting a slap in the face. As a member of the horror audience, I am not so stupid as to not have already figured out that horror movies are fantasies constructed by dev teams, and not realistic portrayals of the world and the way people interact (usually). I also understand, already, that people who watch horror movies demand certain things - like sex and violence. That's the point. Telling us that we're pitiable for it is an insult.

Also, as a horror fan, though I am not overly critical of horror cliches (else why would I be a horror fan?), I am not a mindless zombie. I appreciate movies that deviate from formula! If anything, the "ancient gods" represent not the horror fan but the mindless consumer, and this whole movie is a parody of consumer entertainment, happening to focus on the particular genre of horror (by incidence). People who complain that horror is schlock are just as annoying as the people who complain ceaselessly that rock is dead (instead of, you know, writing some songs and starting a rock band). Anyway, it's not a good horror movie (although I don't think it was trying to be) because it's neither insightful nor scary.

The back story of the Buckner family? Fascinating! Too bad it was only a device to introduce another boring set of zombies (the monsters were all cheapened by their disposable, interchangeable, commodified quality). I would enjoy a movie about the Buckner family before they died (and why were they zombies anyway?). Sure, horror movies about inbred rednecks are a dime a dozen, but the sexual overtones that hint at extreme sadism? It just seems like topics like these are treated as cliches, but nobody has the balls to deal with them seriously - or at least noone with the talent to pull it off.

An underground facility that traps all sorts of horror monsters, dishing them out to people based on associated relics in the cabin's basement? Another fascinating idea! But we only get to see one iteration, and when all hell breaks loose, it's just a craptastic CGI fest. Although, the unicorn was pretty awesome. And when the merman crawled through the haze to finish off the one suit - poetic justice. Now if the movie had more of that - people meeting their personal nightmares (or, more likely in this case, the monster of their dreams - something every experienced horror fan has) - it would have been a whole lot more entertaining. Those are good ideas.

Character tropes annoy me as much as anyone. Marty would have been an awesome trope inversion (as would most of the cast) in a serious horror film. I get it - people don't fit into neat little labeled boxes. And anyway, do friend groups really diversify that much? Isn't it more accurate that the stoners hang out with the stoners, the jocks hang out with the jocks, and the nerds hang out with the nerds?

I understand this movie is pointing out the flaw in that logic, but as an audience member, I'm one of the people complaining about those tropes! If anything, the 'ancient gods' are the studios, and the stupid advertising teams, that may know with some accuracy what it takes to turn a profit, but don't know shit about good art (because fans are not the same thing as consumers). I would be much more comfortable, as a self-respecting horror fan, taking this movie as a send-up to Hollywood, and not the mass audiences who view these movies.

I don't know. It's hard for me to know how to feel about this movie. As I said, it's a clever idea, but I'm not sold on the execution. And the implications it makes are strong but not entirely clear. I guess it could successfully sell itself as a critical or parody film, and it certainly had no shortage of humor, but as a horror film, I'm not satisfied. And if it's trying to make some kind of statement about the state of the horror genre, I find it more than a little bit presumptuous.

There's nothing about reality TV or torture porn at all that spells out 'bad horror' - it's people who don't have their hearts in it copying other people who do to make a profit. And while The Cabin in the Woods may be a more or less original idea, it doesn't break new ground by rehashing all the ideas we've seen before. I don't want to watch a movie telling me what's wrong with movies, I want to watch a movie that shows me - whether any other movie has shown me in just that way before or not - what it is about the movie medium that's so magical and entertaining. In other words, I want to see a good movie, not watch some navel-gazing meta amateur attempt at allegory.

But wait, there's more!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Carrie (1976)

Carrie is a movie I had seen before, but so long ago, it seemed due for a reappraisal, especially in light of the new remake starring Chloe Moretz that's rumored to be in development. It's a great Stephen King story, and a classic of the horror genre. Interesting is the fact that pretty much all of the villains are female. You have Carrie, who is a sort of anti-hero, with her emerging adolescent psychic abilities, and her mom, a rabidly sex-negative religious fundamentalist, and the bullies at school who are predominantly female. There are some guys who are jerks, but they're pretty much along for the ride, the girls are the ones in charge. You'd almost be tempted to call it a feminist movie, except that few of the characters are genuinely likable.

And for a movie where the horror generates almost exclusively from sexual anxiety, the opening scene in the girls' locker room is refreshingly idyllic (at least until Carrie makes her unfortunate discovery). It may be heavily inspired by male fantasy - young girls giggling and playfully teasing one another, half-dressed or naked from just stepping out of the group shower - but I don't care, I appreciated it greatly. And the willingness of Sissy Spacek - who is just fantastic in the role of the awkward (but not unattractive) titular teen - to bare all (or most) for the role enhances my appreciation of the movie (and respect for the actress) enormously.

Carrie's psychotically religious mother is played well by Piper Laurie, although it occurred to me that she might be even more horrific if she played a more realistic portrayal of a religious lunatic. It's just a thought, but true religious fanatics may be rare (I would hope), but I could imagine a more believably devout character being just as abusive toward Carrie, especially in matters of sexual education, given our culture's great shame on that topic.

One strike against the film that I have is the too-heavy reliance on the shrieking sound effect that was famously utilized in Psycho. It's a good device, but too much of it just draws your attention to it. And it dates the film a bit, although that's not the only detail that contributes to that. Still, the climactic scene where Carrie explodes at the prom is just such an iconic and almost archetypal (in totally relatable fashion) expression of high school bully revenge fantasy, that despite the dating, it is oh so satisfying to watch. Still, even though I'm usually wary of remakes, I think this is one movie that could do well to be updated for a modern audience, provided it's in good hands. Though perhaps my appreciation for Chloe Moretz as an actress (I love her fearlessness in the face of doing horror roles) is influencing that opinion. ;-)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

As far as I'm concerned, Paranormal Activity 4 was a flop. The first entry in the series was brilliant, and gave me nightmares. The second entry accomplished the nigh impossible task of living up to the reputation of its predecessor, and I recall sitting through that one in the theater with a constant adrenaline buzz. The third entry was a misstep, taking a wild left turn in the department of plot development, but still had some genuinely scary moments. This fourth entry in the series, however, offers very little in terms of good scares, and in the process of trying to develop the plot further, really screws itself over.

Paranormal Activity was good, because it was extremely simple. A young couple is haunted by paranormal activity in their house. And the point of the film was to display some of that paranormal activity and scare the crap out of the audience - which worked, because that stuff is genuinely terrifying (unless you're the kind of person who just isn't scared by that sort of thing). I understand that you can only do the same thing so many times before people get bored (although the advertising for these Paranormal Activity movies is dreadfully repetitive), and I actually welcome the approach of giving the series some mythology and plot development through the sequels.

The revelation at the end of PA3 was pretty wild, but it didn't turn me off completely. The problem with PA4 is that it doesn't make any damn sense. The plot's becoming too convoluted, with not enough expository information, and it really seems to me that the people working on these later sequels do not know how to tell a story. Why was Hunter adopted? Who the hell is Robbie? Is there one demon or two? Is Katie possessed, and if so, by who, if not the demon (or can he possess multiple people?), and if not, where does she get her supernatural powers? They hint at a lot of this mythology with the whole "witches coven, circle in a triangle symbol" (brief) dialogue, but they don't give any answers.

Things like this are fascinating when you can put the pieces together, not when you don't know what the hell's going on. And I understand that there is definitely some value - especially from a horror standpoint - in confusion and uncertainty, and a film shouldn't give all its secrets away too soon, but when you throw in certain plot points that don't make sense - either you give the audience some way of working it out, or it's just plain bad writing. I don't think the filmmakers necessarily did anything absolutely wrong in terms of the direction they're taking this story, but I just get the impression that they're just not very good at what they're doing.

On the other hand, they made the excellent choice of casting a gorgeous blonde teenager (who may or may not play the role of the sacrificial virgin) in one of the main roles in this movie. She was a delight to watch on webcam. I realize this is pretty much exploitation of a pretty girl for ratings (intentional or not - but I'm not that naive), but hey, who am I to complain about a pretty face? Given that PA4 works so poorly as a Paranormal Activity movie, I would have been more satisfied if they had just named it Normal Activity and stuck to voyeuristic shots of Alex in her bedroom.

How's that for a scary movie? :p

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stone Unturned

The impetus for this compilation was a comment I made about the excellent tracks in The Rolling Stones' discography that weren't popular hits, which came out of a discussion over the tracklist of the Stones' Forty Licks, a pretty decent two-disc collection of their greatest hits, spanning pretty much their entire catalog, at least up until the year it was released, 2002 - before A Bigger Bang, incidentally. So I went through my collection of Stones albums (not complete, by any stretch), and picked out my favorite songs that do NOT turn up on the tracklist of Forty Licks, and that I don't think were ever big hits on the charts (although some of them may have had some play on the groovier radio stations).

One thing I realized when putting together this compilation, which I have dubbed 'Stone Unturned' in reference to the Stones songs that don't get as much attention (with relative obscurity balanced reasonably by quality - that is, I wanted a collection of great songs, not a collection of the most obscure songs), is that I'd like to fill in my discography between the Stones' first few albums that I have, and the golden era that covers Beggars Banquet through about Goats Head Soup. After that, I'm less enthusiastic, because quite frankly, the Stones' output has never been quite as good since the mid-'70s (although 2005's A Bigger Bang was a breath of fresh air).

I felt that Little Red Rooster, being one of my favorites, was enough representation of the early era, because I wanted to save lots of space for the Stones' golden age. That the albums most represented on this comp are Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers just goes to show the quality of those albums. Then, of course, there is Exile on Main St., but I've always had a hard time extracting tracks from that record, because it works so well on its own, with the songs in their context. But with so little of it mined for pop hits (the exceptions being only Happy and Tumbling Dice, a measly two from a double album during the Stones' heyday), it was rife for some representation on my compilation.

Fingerprint File is as much representation as I need from the Stones' latter genre-experimentation period (disco and '80s and all that), being an excellent song and no later than 1974. I threw in Cocksucker Blues at the end just for fun. All in all, I think it's a pretty awesome mix of music, although the perfect Stones comp would blend tracks like these with the best of their pop hits, because sometimes - even I have to admit - the masses do appreciate things that are genuinely good (somehow). But for its limits, I think this is a pretty damn good disc to listen to!

Here's the tracklist, for your consideration:

1. Little Red Rooster
2. Stray Cat Blues
3. Love In Vain
4. Midnight Rambler
5. Monkey Man
6. Sway
7. Can't You Hear Me Knocking
8. Sister Morphine
9. Dead Flowers
10. Rocks Off
11. Rip This Joint
12. All Down The Line
13. Dancing With Mr. D
14. Star Star
15. Fingerprint File
16. Cocksucker Blues

Crazy Horse Tour 2012

They say you can never predict what Neil Young's next move is going to be. A conventional Crazy Horse tour is certainly not what I was expecting at this late stage in the game, but it sure was a long time due, and is much (much!) appreciated by this Neil Young fan (who happens to consider Neil's Crazy Horse output the best of his extensive recorded catalog). The last time I saw Crazy Horse was an almost unbelievable nine years ago for the Greendale Tour - and while that was an unforgettable experience (like seeing Pink Floyd tour for The Wall), it didn't leave much room for Crazy Horse to do their typical thing - which, essentially, is huddle together on stage and just jam on some classics.

Along with the tour comes not one, but TWO new Crazy Horse albums! The first, that has already been released, is a concept album called Americana, on which the band put their usual spin on a number of traditional American folk tunes. The concept is brilliant, although - given the source material - I wasn't super impressed with it on first listen, and I felt it lacked what Crazy Horse does best - that is, long, meandering instrumental jams. Of course, over time, the album has certainly grown on me, and I can really appreciate the way Neil and the Horse have taken these old songs (songs like Oh Susannah, and Oh My Darling, Clementine) and really made them sound like their own, and also turned them into very suitable rock n roll tunes.

The other album the Horse is releasing is called Psychedelic Pill, and is due out by the end of the month, I believe. It's supposed to be a more traditional Crazy Horse album, with original material and even some long meandering jams! Needless to say, I'm looking forward to hearing it. And in fact, it is the album Crazy Horse is more directly supporting on their live tour, one night of which I had the great fortune to attend. My enthusiasm for seeing live bands on tour has waned somewhat after outliving the novelty of the experience around the 5+ year mark, and with my talent at playing guitar leading me to a stage where I'm more enthusiastic about playing music than watching others play it. However, being one of my favorite rock bands of all time, Crazy Horse was absolutely worth driving out of my way to see.

With my small band of dedicated Neil fans, we arrived at the venue, and skipped out on the opening act(s?) to take in the sight of the crowds milling about the indoor events center. To my surprise, there were actually a lot of younger people (as in, young adults) in the audience, despite Crazy Horse totally being a bit of an old hippie band. I wonder how much of that is due to Neil's influence on the younger generations (that would be exciting), and how much is due to the concert taking place on a university campus. Either way, it was fun to watch the people, and also see the different band and tour shirts people were wearing. I didn't see a single other person (beside myself) wearing a Greendale t-shirt (although that doesn't mean they weren't out there).

I imagine some people must have been disappointed at the Greendale show, since Neil only had time for about three classics, after doing the whole Greendale stage show thing. I would have to agree that I would have liked to have heard more classics (part of the reason I was at this show tonight), with the caveat that it was more than worth it to sacrifice that for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Neil Young perform Greendale - one of my favorite albums of all time, not just in Neil's discography - live and in person. But this time things were to be a little more traditional (at least as far as Neil's antics can be considered traditional).

We entered the stadium to the sound of the national anthem, and saw the huge amp props on the stage, and the eclectic mix of characters front and center, and the Crazy Horse emblem hanging on a backdrop at the back of the stage. This show was going to be equal parts Rust Never Sleeps, Weld, and Year of the Horse, Neil's most iconic live tours with Crazy Horse. The giant amps on the stage immediately recalled the cover of the Weld live album, while the roaming mad scientists and roadies dressed like construction workers revived a little of the spirit of Rust Never Sleeps. And with the band huddled together center stage to jam on their first song, with the Crazy Horse emblem at their backs, it felt like this was the Year of the Horse all over again - and certainly, it was a fantastic place to be at a fantastic time to be a Crazy Horse fan.

The first song they played was one of my favorites from Ragged Glory (also represented live on Weld) - Love And Only Love - an excellent jam track. God, seeing those sights, and hearing those sounds, it was incredible - I almost couldn't believe that was Neil Young and Crazy Horse up on stage, doing just what they were legendary (among fans) for! I really appreciate hearing Love And Only Love, and I felt it was an excellent song to open the show with. They followed that up with Powderfinger, which is another really good song - this one from Rust Never Sleeps, although one of the few I had heard live once before at the Greendale show. Still, it's a great song, one that I even like to play on guitar.

Peppered throughout the setlist that night was a healthy helping of tracks from the upcoming Psychedelic Pill album. The first of which was a tune called Born In Ontario, which sounds like a bit of a biographical song, in which Neil sings proudly of his Canadian heritage - though not without appreciation for his more-or-less adopted hometown of the U.S.A. One of the (over-priced) tour shirts on display at the merch tables was an image of the Statue of Liberty's face with makeup painted over it, and the Canadian flag design underneath, with the text "alchemy never works". On the contrary, I think Neil's adoption into the culture and politics of the U.S.A. is working extremely well, and I love him for it.

The next song was another track from Psychedelic Pill, a monster of a tune called Walk Like A Giant. Reviewers have described the album and its songs as a bit of a look-back on the idealism of the sixties, and the direction we've headed since then, potentially a sort of companion to Neil's new retrospective memoir, Waging Heavy Peace. I'll wait till I get the album to dig too deeply into the concepts, but musically, Walk Like A Giant was a great Crazy Horse piece. The best part was at the very end, when the band went into a sort of musical trance, using their instruments and extreme feedback to mimic the sound of a giant's colossal footsteps crashing rhythmically through the land. It was fantastic.

With the feedback squealing by the end of it in almost apocalyptic fashion, I thought to myself, it would be just perfect if Neil broke into the lyrical lead guitar melody that opens Like A Hurricane on Live Rust just then. That turned out to be a little too optimistic as next Neil went into a short acoustic set. I wouldn't have expected it, given that Crazy Horse is all about being Neil's electric band, though in all fairness, the iconic Rust Never Sleeps was half solo acoustic in addition to being half rockin' Crazy Horse. Anyway, I think it was an excuse to play an acoustic number from their new album, a song called Twisted Road which I recall to have the cliched lyric "let the good times roll". But before that, we heard the very familiar sound clip from Woodstock about the rain, which Neil used all the way back during the Rust Never Sleeps tour (just more to evoke memories of Crazy Horse's history) which led into Neil playing The Needle and the Damage Done.

I wasn't too miffed about Neil slipping in a song from Harvest during a Crazy Horse concert - that is a good one, after all - and the acoustic set was thankfully brief. After that, it was back to long, meandering jams, with another track from Psychedelic Pill - a tune called Ramada Inn, which seems thematically to be about what a reviewer has called "mature love". I suppose it ties in to Neil's mindset, especially with the whole memoir/looking back thing. One thing I noticed about this concert is that Neil seems very unselfconscious, which I think is great. Back on the Greendale tour, he made some cryptic comment about taking his hat off, that I interpreted to be self-consciousness about starting to go bald (which could itself be a symbol for growing old). In any case, Neil seems proud to be exactly who he is today, and it shows in the enthusiasm for his playing with his old familiar band, which ironically makes him seem younger!

Apparently, the track Ramada Inn is a good 17 or so minutes long. It definitely seemed to go on for a while, but I pretty much chalked that up to Neil stretching it out in a jam context. Actually, I'm excited to learn that it's really that long even in the studio version, which I heard on YouTube and think sounds great. It was long at the concert, but in a way that didn't feel overlong. Appropriately long, I guess. After all, these are largely all long jam-type songs. It didn't even feel like it had been a whole two hours after the band was finished, especially given that the longer songs means a smaller setlist. But before getting to that point, the next song up was a short one but a good one, digging all the way back to Crazy Horse's first album with Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. And the song was Cinnamon Girl (unfortunately not Down By The River or Cowgirl in the Sand, both of which I'd love to hear live), a true classic.

Fuckin' Up (another one from Ragged Glory) is a really good song, and one with a catchy riff that sounds great played live. I could tell the band was having fun on this one. At one point towards the end, Neil walked up to the microphone and announced to us that they'd fucked up the ending. In another context, that might be annoying, but this was Crazy Horse - a jam band. Part of the fun is going with the flow and the energy of the song and seeing where it takes you. Watching Neil play with this band, I can imagine it's a whole lot of fun. It doesn't surprise me that he keeps coming back to them - the thing that surprises me is that he doesn't play with them more often. Nine years between tours? Neil could probably tour yearly or semi-yearly with this band, and get plenty of people to come and hear them do his classics. Of course, Neil doesn't like to be stuck in a rut, no matter how comfy that rut is, and that's part of what makes him such a brilliant artist, so I wouldn't have it any other way.

The set nearly finished with the title track from Psychedelic Pill, which sounded like a more or less traditional straight-up song, that Neil introduced as a song that pretty much sounds like so many others. It's that "all one song" mentality again. I guess some people would get annoyed at that, too, but I view it as Neil embracing the truth of human creativity instead of trying to pretend it's anything more than it really is. He's one man, with a certain style, and of course a lot of his songs are going to sound similar. That doesn't necessarily mean they're repetitive, although if they are, so be it. Take the ones you like, and leave the rest. And human expression itself so frequently aims for the same old themes - think of how many songs there are about love and, as Neil explained this one, beautiful women. If you don't like it, then what the hell are you listening to music for? Just another thing I love about Neil's approach, that makes him such a genuine artist - the kind that's down-to-earth and approachable, not the upscale hoity-toity kind.

The very last song of the set was the classic Crazy Horse cruncher, introduced on Rust Never Sleeps and represented again on Weld - Hey Hey, My My (from the Into The Black album :p - just kidding). This is a song with a fantastic riff, and an appropriate closer for the show. Minus the encore, of course. Which is really less of an encore than a "give the band time to pee before coming back and doing their last song", but again, so be it. Descending from the rafters was that iconic and curious keyboard, decked out like a wounded dove or a bleeding angel or some such. The same one we saw in the rafters after the Greendale show - that the band didn't use. The flying keyboard that indicated the band was going to play Like A Hurricane.

After Greendale, when I realized the band had been prepared to play that song but didn't, I was devastated. That's one of the greatest songs in Neil's entire discography, and a Crazy Horse staple. What's more, that show ended early, without even an encore. Well, tonight was the time for retribution. I finally got to hear Neil Young & Crazy Horse play Like A Hurricane - starting with that iconic lead line. After the band's final jam, they bowed out and the mad scientists and construction workers took the stage to box up the oversized stage amps. The lights came on and the crowds began to filter out. It was a fantastic experience, well worth the trouble of making it out there.


Love And Only Love
Born In Ontario
Walk Like A Giant
The Needle And The Damage Done
Twisted Road
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
Fuckin' Up
Psychedelic Pill
Hey Hey, My My

encore: Like A Hurricane