Neil Young & Crazy Horse Finish Strong

neil

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, FEB. 26, 2004

Few bands set the heart of a dedicated guitar-rock fan atwitter the way that Neil Young & Crazy Horse can. Over the years, the no-frills combo of lead guitarist Young, bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina, and rhythm guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro–and before him, drug casualty Danny Whitten–have created such rough-hewn six-string epics as “Cinnamon Girl”, “Cowgirl in the Sand”, “Powderfinger”, “Like a Hurricane”, “Cortez the Killer”, and “My My, Hey Hey (Outta the Black)”.

Unfortunately, the quartet’s 14th release, Greendale, doesn’t live up to previous accomplishments. It’s a concept album about a close-knit family in a rural American town, whose day-to-day actions reflect worldwide political and environmental concerns. That’s all well and good, but for the most part the songs themselves are extremely average.

That didn’t stop a sold-out Queen E. crowd from paying upward of $125 (plus sizable service charges) to see a theatrical performance of the entire Greendale album, which–including Young’s explanatory between-song patter–took nearly two hours to run its course. Thank God he added another hour of non-Greendale material, or there would have been some mighty disgruntled folks trudging down Georgia Street around 10 p.m.

The minimalist stage set–designed by Young himself, who also directed, coproduced, and wrote all the music–featured a crude jail cell on one side of the band and a plain white house, with a porch and white-picket fence, on the other. While Crazy Horse slogged through Greendale‘s so-so arrangements, various performers–including Young’s wife, Pegi, and road manager Eric Johnson–roamed about the stage, mouthing the song lyrics.

Johnson’s role as drug-running cop-killer Jed Green wasn’t too convincing, although newcomer Sarah White charmed as cheerleader-turned-ecowarrior Sun Green. The sole musical highlight of the Greendale show came when Young traded in his electric guitar for a rich-sounding acoustic, took a seat, and delivered a stirring solo version of the uplifting “Bandit”.

After a semirousing anthem about saving Mother Earth–during which the entire cast of 50 or so actors, singers, and dancers joined in on the flag-waving shenanigans–Young and his band momentarily left the stage. When the red floodlights opened up and clips from Young’s 1979 concert film Rust Never Sleeps flashed on the video screen, it seemed as if a real rock show was about to take place.

All bets were off when Young reappeared with his black, whammy bar–fitted Les Paul and Crazy Horse launched into Bob Dylan’s trusty showstopper, “All Along the Watchtower”. The crowd was now on its feet to stay, presumably getting what it paid for, with gritty renditions of Zuma‘s “Don’t Cry No Tears” and Ragged Glory‘s “Love and Only Love”.

I caught my first whiff of reefer when Young lit into “My My, Hey Hey”, and the awesome sight of the 58-year-old rocker grimacing and stomping along to the raunchy, overdriven licks convinced me to drop 40 bones on a flimsy tour T-shirt depicting that very act. By that point, the show was so strong I was only mildly perturbed by a slower-than-normal version of “Rockin’ in the Free World”.

I guess Neil just got tired of playing it the good way.

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