By Geoffrey and Rob Dickens
We have both grown up with Neil Young. There is perhaps no other artist that means so much to us equally or represents as many double-ups in our record collections.
Between us we’ve seen Neil live a few times – with The Lost Dogs 1989, the Greendale tour in 2003, twice in 2009 with a composite band including Ben Keith on pedal and wife Pegi Young, and last Friday with the full Crazy Horse outfit at The Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. Now this is not a large number of times compared with some of our friends, some of whom traveled around Australia to see Neil and the band play all 6 times this Australian tour. But we have seen Neil enough to form an opinion or two.
Firstly, Neil plays what Neil wants. Anyone looking for a sweet, folkie dream would have been disappointed. What we got was “A Day in the Life” over the PA as an introduction (Beatles, not Neil) followed by an unexpected and slightly awkward Australian National Anthem with band on stage. But mostly what we got was a wall of grunge and feedback throughout the night. Long songs drawn out even further as Neil and the Band joyfully got in the groove and played their material as fresh as ever. Save for a rare acoustic rendition and a piano piece, it was all electric and power-laden.
What was immediately noticeable from down in the standing area in front of the stage, was the breadth of his appeal. Neil and The Horse seem to have brought out as many 20-somethings, yelling, jumping, head-banging and spilling their beers, as it had grey nomads, nodding and smiling at every track from the musicians who have composed the soundtrack to their lives.
Much has been said about Neil’s unique connection with The Horse, from their enlistment to play on his second solo album (1969), through to their never-predictable-but-never-surprising re-appearances with Neil during his stellar, elongated career. Appearances which almost always seem to occur around the highlights of his output, if they’re not the highlights themselves. And what has been so often said is true: he has a genuine connection with this sweet-harmonied garage band.
They appear to be the perfect canvas upon which Neil can weave the drama of his musical spectrum, from the achingly gentle sorrow of “Cortez the Killer”, to the rage and self-destruction of “Fuckin’ Up”. And it works – Young directing the performances with a wave of his guitar or even a direct scream at one of the Horse, reining them in or daring them to keep up.
The organic approach wasn’t always successful – early on they pulled out 1990’s “Love to Burn” which seemed to double in length (which was already 10 minutes) when they botched choruses and appeared to be unable to figure out how to end the song – but it’s essential to the success of their albums and live shows. The last portion of the set was an exhilarating excursion into what this band, and no other, can do, thrashing their way through nine of their best.
It’s pretty impressive how a 67 year old performer who has released countless albums since his debut in 1968, decides to play almost twenty five per cent of his material for the night from his most recent release Psychedelic Pill. It’s also praiseworthy that he includes an over twenty-minute rendition of “Walk Like A Giant” and two unreleased numbers in the set.
It’s fair to say that some of our number were starting to lose a little faith after Fork In The Road, Le Noise and Americana. It’s fair to say that after Psychedelic Pill and his show last week, we think that Neil continues to Walk Like A Giant. It would take your whole lifetime (and a generous stack of ticket stubs) to try and cover each aspect of this live persona, but this IS the way to see Neil Young, and this could have been THE night to do it.
All hail Neil – Long May He Run!!
Set List – Rod Laver Arena 15 March 2013
1. Powderfinger – Rust Never Sleeps 1979
2. Love to Burn – Ragged Glory 1990
3. Born in Ontario – Psychedelic Pill 2012
4. Walk Like a Giant – Psychedelic Pill 2012
5. Hole in the Sky – unreleased
6. Heart of Gold(acoustic solo) – Harvest 1972
7. Twisted Road (acoustic solo) – Psychedelic Pill 2012
8. Singer Without a Song (Neil plays piano) – unreleased
9. Ramada Inn – Psychedelic Pill 2012
10. Cinnamon Girl – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere 1969
11. Cortez the Killer – Zuma 1975
12. Fuckin’ Up – Weld 1991
13. Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll – Life 1987
14. Welfare Mothers – Rust Never Sleeps 1979
15. Sedan Delivery – Rust Never Sleeps 1979
16. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) – Rust Never Sleeps 1979
17. Mr. Soul – Buffalo Springfield S/T 1966
18. Roll Another Number (For the Road) – Tonight’s The Night 1975