When I eventually figure out that time machine, one of the gigs on the list is Neil Young at Finsbury Park in 1993, supported by grunge upstarts Pearl Jam. So, when Neil Young and Crazy Horse rode into town last month, on what may prove to be their last tour, I was looking forward finally to seeing him live, even if it was at the cavernous, somewhat soulless, London O2.
I’d recently read Young’s rambling, charming autobiography, part of which looks forward to working with Crazy Horse again on what would become the err, rambling, charming Psychedelic Pill, his first album since giving up beer and smoking pot. Hippies these days, just no stamina. (Except for the 24-minute ‘Driftin’ Back’.)
We missed support Los Lobos (who presumably didn’t simply play ‘La Bamba’ for half an hour), but reached our seats in time to listen to The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ on loop whilst watching the roadies, dressed like either white-coated, clipboard carrying lab technicians or hard-hatted builders, directing the removal of the crate covers from the stacks, which were made to look like oversized amps, and the lowering of an oversized mic stand centre stage. The classy set design was bookended by two screens that resembled old-fashioned tv sets.
Some bands like to open their sets with a short, fast, throwaway number, to get themselves and the crowd going, but this isn’t, quite, the Crazy Horse way. The measured tone for the evening was set well by a sprawling version of ‘Love and Only Love’, Young huddling centre stage during the instrumental sections of the songs with guitarist Poncho Sampedro and bassist Billy Talbot, tucked just in front of drummer Ralph Molina. It hadn’t occurred to me that Young would seem a little shy onstage, after such a lengthy career, but it didn’t surprise me either. (This November, btw, will see the 50th anniversary of the release of ‘The Sultan’, his first single with The Squires.)
There’s something immediately recognisable about Crazy Horse songs, quite apart from their length: the rolling, rhythmic structure allowing the songs ruminative space; the lengthy, flowing jams; the comfort and familiarity in the how the musicians play together; the reverb-soaked, trebly guitar sound Young draws out of Old Black, his timeless 1952 Gibson Les Paul; Young’s own unmistakeable vocals. Young says that Crazy Horse are able to take him places his other bands haven’t, and you get a strong sense of that live.
The set drew from new album Psychedelic Pill, alongside several classic Crazy Horse songs, especially from Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. I’d heard they were playing tracks from Zuma on this tour, but sadly none got an airing this evening. Two of the new songs stood out: the dreamy, nostalgic ‘Ramada Inn’, and ‘Walk Like a Giant’, the latter finishing with a thumping beat marking out the giant’s steps whilst a wind blowing debris across the stage. (It sounds slightly mad, and it was, but it was effective. No idea how the roadies cleared the stage up as quickly as they did.)
There were a few of Young’s non-Crazy Horse songs: he also did a short mid-set interlude, just himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, wandering the stage, with a degree of introspection, whilst playing ‘Comes a Time’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’; and later we got the uxorious ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and an old Buffalo Springfield number, ‘Mr Soul’. Just before this last one, ‘Fuckin’ Up’ was given a lengthy and humorous breakdown, a call-and-response with the audience led by Sampedro, with Young whispering ‘fuckin’ up’ in the background.
Crazy Horse played comfortably over two hours – that there were only 17 songs in the set reflected only how long the songs were (did I mention that?). A fine evening. And just remembered, the merch stall included Crazy Horse tea towels!
Here’s a five-star review of an earlier gig in the tour from the Guardian.
Veering further from the grunge path, that week in June was a cracking one for gigs: the day after Neil Young, I saw Masters of Reality at the Islington O2, and, a few days after that, the Wildhearts at the Kentish Town Forum. I got right down the front for both gigs too (one was a bit hairier than the other). Short reviews of each to follow shortly.
Setlist: Love and Only Love, Powderfinger, Psychedelic Pill, Walk Like a Giant, Hole in the Sky, Red Sun, Comes a Time, Blowin’ in the Wind, Singer Without a Song, Ramada Inn, Cinnamon Girl, Fuckin’ Up, Mr Soul, Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)
Encore: Like a Hurricane, Roll Another Number (For the Road), Everybody Knows This is Nowhere