Saturday, October 13, 2012

With Crazy Horse at Full Gallop, Still the Neil Young of Old -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
with opening act Los Lobos
United Center, Chicago
October 11, 2012

About 15 years ago, toward the end of the Chicago Bulls’ 6-championship run, I wrote an ad promoting a personal appearance at a local Chevy dealer by Bulls center Bill Wennington (now their radio color man). It said:

“Come meet one of the greatest (Canadian-born) players in NBA history.”

Although Bill certainly had a solid career, and was a contributor to the Bulls’ last 3 titles, in the NBA he was far from a superstar. So my parenthetical, though visually scaled back to add a bit of facetious humor, was absolutely essential to making the sentence otherwise true.

Such would not be the case in this sentence:

Neil Young is one of the greatest (Canadian-born) rock musicians of all-time.

In fact, not only is the statement true without the “Canadian-born” modifier, but with it, “one of” becomes unnecessary and “musicians” becomes singular.

On Thursday night at Chicago’s United Center, Neil Young—who was born in Toronto in 1945, moved to Los Angeles in 1966 to co-found Buffalo Springfield, has long lived in Northern California, came on stage to a recorded (not by him) version of “Star Spangled Banner” and performed a new tune proclaiming his pride at being “Born In Ontario”—aptly demonstrated why he is a national treasure in two countries.

Following a terrific hourlong opening set by Los Lobos, then a fun interlude in which white-coated “mad scientists” uncovered the oversized amps depicted on 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps album cover and a respectful rendition of the anthem, Young plugged in his Old Black guitar and with his longtime (but not constant band) Crazy Horse, he filled the UC with glorious, feedback-drenched brilliance.

The next time Jack White wants to walk offstage after just 55 minutes, he should be forced to sit atop a megawatt amp and watch as four guys well into their 60s rip him a new sphincter with 2 non-stop hours of raging vehemence.

Young, guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina played just 13 songs—many lasting over 10 minutes—but made every one count, from Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” to late ‘70s classics like “Powderfinger” and “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black),” as well as five brand new songs that all sounded superb.

Most of the new ones were from Psychedelic Pill, a new Neil Young and Crazy Horse collaboration that releases on October 30 (Neil omitted playing the title song, though it’s been in most recent setlists). If you merely look at the United Center setlist—on or—you may think “no “Heart of Gold?”, no “Rockin’ in the Free World?”” But the new songs—and the extended interplay they engendered among the clearly-enjoying-themselves Crazy Horse—were strong enough to not only complement “Cinnamon Girl,” “F*cking Up” and a sublime solo rendition of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” (video below) but even at times felt more compelling than the classics.

I’m not saying the new, 15 minute burner “Walk Like a Giant” is quite as good as “Down By the River,” but having heard the latter live in the past, the former felt equally fulfilling in a similar vein. On the solo acoustic “Twisted Road,” Young pays tribute to Bob Dylan and other influences, and after it, Neil took to a piano to debut a new song that seemingly isn’t even on Psychedelic Pill (the main refrain was “she’s a singer without a song she's living”; YouTube clip).

For the sole encore, I would have preferred “Like a Hurricane,” but Young played it at the gig before and in rotating show closers, went with “Tonight’s The Night.” This was more of a slow burn but got pretty fantastic by the end.

Obviously, Neil Young has written many more great songs than he could possibly play in 2 hours. Or even 5. But while I feel some artists are unnecessarily sparing with their greatest hits, much of Young’s appeal—beyond his wonderful lyrics, still pristine voice and tremendously influential guitar roar—comes in being iconoclastic. At an age where he could easily relaxing on his ranch and—with his legacy more than secure—largely just indulging his passion for model trains, he’s still writing and releasing high-quality music.

And instead of touring on a pure greatest hits act or another lucrative CSNY reunion, he’s playing far more emblematic shows like he did Thursday night, to a respectable—and appreciative—but well short of sold out audience.

So even if he opts not to play it, or selected other relics from his prodigious past, as long as Neil Young actually is still rockin’ in the free world—especially with his Crazy Horse compadres—that’s good enough for me.

Here's a clip of "The Needle and the Damage Done" that I shot. Particularly given that I was in the 3rd deck, I think Neil's voice on it sounds fantastic. 

No comments: