Thursday, October 11, 2012

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

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