Neil Young & Crazy Horse demonstrate restorative power of music at Vancouver concert

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      At Rogers Arena on Sunday, November 11

      It was a good night for community singing. “O Canada” opened, “Happy Birthday” closed, and in the middle everyone got to yell along with the chorus to “F*!#in’ Up”.

      That’s “Why do I keep fuckin’ up?” in case you didn’t know. And it’s a fun thing to shout.

      It’s fun to sing “O Canada” too, especially on Remembrance Day and in the company of Neil Young, who really does epitomize the true north strong and free. It was also rather sweet to croon “Happy Birthday” to everyone’s favourite Ontario boy, even if Young’s show with long-time compadres Crazy Horse ended a bit shy of his actual 67th. And it was definitely a treat to see the stooped, jowly rock star who stepped on-stage at 9 p.m. turn into the beaming, youthful figure who reluctantly departed two hours later.

      You want proof of music’s restorative power? Check out a Neil Young concert. By the time Young launched into a blistering rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s 1967 hit “Mr. Soul”, every greybeard in the crowd was an adolescent all over again.

      As for proof of his personal agelessness, the 183-minute version of “Walk Like a Giant”—from Young’s just released 35th studio album, Psychedelic Pill—brought the noise with the fury of a hormonally crazed teenager who’s just discovered the electric guitar. The hourlong coda alone—a scorched-earth foray into hammer-of-the-gods howitzer blasts and six-string banshee wailing—could easily have given Godspeed You! Black Emperor a lesson in end-of-the-world soundtracking.

      Okay, we kid—but only about the running times, and not by much.

      Aside from a few other excursions into functional nostalgia, including a heartbroken “The Needle and the Damage Done” and an appropriately punked-up “My My, Hey Hey”, Young and Crazy Horse delivered mostly elongated versions of the already very long songs on Psychedelic Pill.

      This didn’t bother many in the audience: if you know the Horse, you know that occasional passages of tedium are the price you pay for those transcendent moments of inspiration that only this particular combination of forces can deliver. So if on this night “Twisted Road” was more lead than gold, the poignant “Ramada Inn” more than repaid our interest with its lilting chorus and liquid Les Paul lead lines.

      In fact, Young’s electric guitars crackled with energy all night long, whether he was replicating the overdriven glory of 1969’s “Cinnamon Girl” or exploring a recently purchased electronic toy that gave every other note a rumbling, subterranean, and wholly otherworldly afterglow.

      Yes, the old guy was in good form.

      The same can’t necessarily be said of the support acts, the Sadies and Los Lobos, both of whom largely wasted the opportunity to riff on the Psychedelic Pill concept with some lysergic action of their own.

      Given a shamefully brief 20-minute opening slot, Toronto four-piece the Sadies played the Louvin Brothers’ country-gospel standard “There’s a Higher Power” and flatpicking guitar workout “Ridge Runner Reel” rather than venture into the warped twang-pop of their excellent 2010 release Darker Circles. And Los Lobos were, perhaps predictably, all over the map, ranging from conjunto- and cumbia-influenced Spanish-language numbers to one of the dullest blues tunes ever to grace a stadium stage. Standing centre stage with a silver Gretsch guitar, former drummer Louie Perez was a fidgety and distracting presence until he redeemed himself with a shockingly accomplished and jazzy solo late in the Los Angeles–bred band’s set. Next time, could we hear more of that, please?

      Singer-guitarists Cesar Rojas and David Hidalgo were more consistently enjoyable, with the latter getting solidly into the spirit of the evening via a “Dream in Blue” that showcased his love of Young’s ’60s contemporary Steve Winwood.

      All that really matters, however, is that Young, now in his seventh decade of making music, is in strong and—according to his recently published autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace—sober form. If he keeps on with these sweaty two-hour sets, burnout might yet claim him, but for now fading away is most definitely not in the cards.

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      Doctor

      Nov 12, 2012 at 10:23am

      Truly a wonderful show! Young and Crazy Horse brought their all and brought us to our feet countless times. The only sour note were the mini-Hitlers dressed in security staff costumes who just couldn't leave the good folk alone. Back in the day (the 1970's and 1980's) rock concerts were joyful events, with much dancing and smoking and freeks letting their freedom fly. Nowadays, it's all about crowd management for the big corporations and the people must sit in their seats quietly with their hands in their laps, lest they attract the ire of the mini-Hitlers. I loved seeing Young again for my umpteenth time (and Crazy Horse for the first time) but the over-indulgent security does tend to but a damper on things.

      out at night

      Nov 12, 2012 at 3:13pm

      Not having anywhere else to be after seeing a matinee movie, I arrived at the arena around 5:00 expecting a line-up of floor ticket-holders and discovered I was first in line! Hey, hey, my, my where's the old-time enthusiasm of hardcore fans willing to brave the elements to squeeze up next to the stage? (Fun fact: anyone who's read Young's recent autobiography has learned that he specifies that floor tickets be general admission cuz he got tired of seeing industry-connected fat cats sitting in the front and centre seats, not emoting or dancing or giving him back anything. So how cool is that?) Anyway, much to my surprise I ended up smack centre, leaning on the barrier and saw the whole thing as up close and personal as could be. What a thrill!!!

      Varty is wrong about a few things here: The Sadies' set clocked in at exactly 28 minutes, not 20, and Los Lobos played material exclusively from a handful of early-to-mid 90s albums. If their set was "all over the map" then the same can be said for virtually every one of their albums which combine those traditional Hispanic song forms with blues and rock numbers.

      And Varty is trying too hard not to gush here. Why parse, hedge, qualify or grumble about some song being "more lead than gold" or "occasional passages of tedium"? I know it's a hard trick to express unbridled joy in a concert review without appearing to lose your cool, "critical" cred, but sometimes a talented writer can pull it off (check out Usinger's Jack White piece for what I'm talking about).

      Sure, it's clear that Varty thought it was a great show, and says so, but c'mon man, were you there? It was out of body stuff, and for this veteran concertgoer it ranks easily in the top one or two concerts of all time! What, you didn't cry?

      Neil Young and Crazy Horse in 2012: this is what artistic relevance sounds like kids.

      Gerald

      Nov 12, 2012 at 8:41pm

      You guys must have watched a different show than I did. I was shocked and stunned at how bad it was.

      I'm a huge Neil Young fan, but that relentless and repetitious high end distortion on just about every song, almost all seeming to be long jams in the same key and going on and on for waaaaay too long torturing the songs into long drawn out painful deaths was too much for me.

      I've seen a lot, and I mean a lot of shows in my time (I'm 58, my first show was Pink Floyd at the PNE Gardens in 69/70 for $2.50) and have seen just about everyone at least once, many multiple times as I love music and consider myself pretty open minded at shows realizing there is leeway for new material and improvisation - otherwise what's the point? I admire artists who shuffle things up and reach for something new, but what happened in this show went way beyond what I consider the cutting edge or pushing the envelope....or whatever you want to call it.

      IMO a lot of people, myself included, didn't leave during the show out of respect for the man himself, and the hope that he would save it by putting together some great numbers.

      And his short acoustic set, with an abbreviated "The Needle and the Damage done" felt to me like it was put in as an obligation.

      Maybe 5 songs, including the aforementioned tune, were acceptable.

      The difference between this and his last show was like night and day.

      To each their own I suppose, but IMO, and my buddy - who is a musician in his own right and has been a fan since Neils' Buffalo Springfield days, this show was not Neil at his best...and maybe at his worst.

      Like I said, I like cutting edge stuff but that was just noise for the most part last night.

      I would hardly call this "artistic relevance". Neil has written and recorded some of the finest songs ever, and he can do a hell of a lot better then this.

      Like I said, to each their own. I'm betting that while some may disagree with me, there are those who would agree...if they were honest with themselves.

      BTW IMO The Sadies were quite good, but Los Lobos saved the show for me - they were tight and produced some good sound. Really enjoyable.

      A. MacInnis

      Nov 12, 2012 at 9:06pm

      It was pretty special. See Frank lead us in the birthday song here, after a big chunk of "Roll Another Number." (Whoever shot this must have been standing close to me... You might even here my voice in the background).
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPkg-_uxbMI

      A. MacInnis

      Nov 12, 2012 at 11:21pm

      Heh... Los Lobos good, Neil Young and Crazy Horse bad...? Gerald, we were on very different drugs.

      A. MacInnis

      Nov 13, 2012 at 12:45am

      Setlist for Vancouver here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/neil-young/2012/rogers-arena-vancouver-bc-...

      Anyone craving uncommon Neil Young vinyl might want to note that Life - his least popular studio album, and his last for Geffen - is at Red Cat in the used section for a mere $10. It's not a very good album, I admit, but it's worth that much for "Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll" alone (Neil's equivalent of the Clash's "Complete Control").

      kevin jay

      Nov 13, 2012 at 6:03am

      hey gerald, there are a lot of us neil young AND CRAZY HORSE fans who enjoy the noisy explorations. he's been doing this for ages, and that's what we came for. i thought this was the best show i've ever seen. neil is plugged into electricity, pure and simple. nobody plays guitar like that, and i defy you to find another rocker approaching 70 who has that kind of energy.

      let me put it this way...if you own the album "arc" and have actually listened to it, you probably loved this show. i do, i have, and i did.

      BGreene

      Nov 13, 2012 at 8:34am

      I thought Los Lobos were great.

      out at night

      Nov 13, 2012 at 8:38am

      Gerald:
      No points lost for not liking the show. No accounting for taste as they say. But when you describe "the cutting edge stuff" as "just noise" it suggests you might have a bit of a blind spot where Crazy Horse is concerned. I'd take a look back at the material Neil and the Horse have recorded - in studio and live - over the past twenty-five years. It isn't a whole lot of albums as they don't collaborate more than a few times a decade, but much of it is similarly noisy, avante-garde experimentalism. One of most fantastic things about NY is his eclecticism, and the 11/11/12 show was a demonstration that the guy who can strum an iconic original folk tune or pen a country classic in his sleep can also hold his own with the likes of Lamont Young, Glenn Branca, Lou Reed and other nasty-ass sonic experimenters who redefined music in the modern era.

      Gerald

      Nov 13, 2012 at 8:40am

      A. Macinnis. To each their own. I don't do drugs but wish I had that show. LOL.

      Neil played some good tunes but the long drawn out heavy distortion jams and their endings was way too much...those songs all sounded the same and never seemed to end.

      I love Neil Young and his music and have since his early days, for the most part, but even a die hard fan has to admit that a few lemons have fallen from the tree over the years. Even so this does not diminish what he has done in the past imo.

      But wouldn't you think that by promoting "Americana" by giving away hard copies to fans who bought tickets to the show, that perhaps this was the direction he was taking on this tour? Very few could take a list like on that recording and pull it off like he did - that was a positive, different direction IMO. If I had known about the other new recording and this is what he would be focusing in on, I never would have gone. I traveled from out of town to see this show and had been looking forward to it.

      I didn't expect a set list of his greatest "hits" or any such thing, but I certainly didn't expect this, nor did I enjoy it...and I don't think I'm alone here.

      To add, he seemed to put the abbreviated acoustic set in as some sort of obligation.

      How long did that "ending" to Walking like a giant last? That in itself put me off and I never recovered. That ending wasn't music but just loud distorted noise, over and over and over. A couple blasts to end that would have been fine, but...and that theme seemed to be for all the new songs.

      Anyways, to each their own. If you enjoyed the show fine. I'm on record for not....and I love a lot of Neils' work through the years.

      His last show here and this one was night and day...light years apart.

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