Neil Young and Crazy Horse
RDS Arena, Dublin
I’ve been lucky enough to catch a few shows on this “Alchemy” tour.
Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Birmingham and now this.
The setlist has changed little but the improvisational nature of the solo sections make for a different experience every show.
The RDS showground seems a strange setting for a Neil and Crazy Horse outing, and the concert has more of a feel of a mini festival with a starting time of 5.00.pm with local opening act Little Green Cars. They are excellent as are Los Lobos and The Waterboys who revel in the opportunity to play before the main act and rise to the occasion with stellar versions of the songs you know and love.
When Neil and the boys make their entrance however it is clear that this is the act everybody is here to see. The Alchemy tour has featured much in the way of theatrics, Young resurrecting the giant vintage amp facade he used originally on the Rust Never Sleeps tour (79) and the Weld outing (90). However for this show these visual tricks are not used. This evening is about the music, plain and simple.
Kicking off with Love And Only Love from 1990’s Ragged Glory the tone is set. Long, grooving guitar solos tied together with great verses and a killer chorus. Ralph Molina (drums/vocals), Billy Talbot (bass/vocals) and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro know how to play this stuff.
Ralph and Billy have been with Neil since his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (69) when original guitar player Danny Whitten sparred off Neil. After his unfortunate passing to a heroin overdose in the early 70s he was replaced by Poncho.
LAOL is followed by Powderfinger from Rust Never Sleeps and by now people who have come to the show expecting the winsome folky hippy stuff that most non Neil Young fans will recognise are wondering what’s going on.
People who came here to see a James Taylor show are visibly shocked. I can testify to this as I am standing at the side of the stage and I can see the faces. The biggest problem for the casual Neil fan will be the long protracted, feedback-drenched apocalyptic endings which are bolted on to at least half of the songs. A common complaint has been that if Neil got rid of these endings he could probably play another half dozen songs. I personally can take or leave the long endings but Neil plays for his own pleasure and doesn’t worry too much about giving the audience a greatest hits show.
If Neil and the band are into it sparks fly, if they are not they tend to sound a little like an old tractor with a wheel about to fall off. His fans know how he works now but it isn’t hard to notice some dissent from certain quarters. There are even a few slow handclap moments during the gaps between songs and I think I may have even heard a chorus off boos after one particularly drawn-out ending.
Much of the audience laps it up though as we travel through a good slice of back catalogue and the best of the tracks from current album Psychedelic Pill, certainly his best offering in a long time. Lovers of folky Neil get a brief solo section to rest their ears when he straps on his acoustic and harmonica for a gorgeous reading of Comes A Time (78) and a particularly tender reading of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, usually this tune seems blunted by familiarity but Neil makes it his own as he does with most of the covers he attempts.
The home straight presents thrilling versions Of Cinnamon Girl, Fuckin’ Up, Mr. Soul and Hey, Hey, My, My, (Into The Black). Just as the heavens open we get a solid reading of Cortez The Killer. Neil Young and Crazy Horse continue to thrill and confound audiences around the globe. They are barrelling towards their seventies.
Go and see them if you have the chance, once they’re gone, they can’t come back.