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Live Report - Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Posted on Wednesday, 12 June 2013 | No Comments

A fact: arena gigs are one of the least preferable ways to enjoy live music. When it's the Newcastle Metro Arena, doubly so. When you leave the evening sunshine to walk into that giant aircraft hanger, the sight is assaulted by adverts upon adverts, endless loud banners and bars and food outlets with shocking levels of price-gouging - even by the inglorious standards of the corporate enorma-dome, the Metro Arena's combination of desultory architecture, cramped hallways and messy appearance is a shocker. If you come here looking for art, you've really come to wrong place.
Tonight though, you've got thousands of people who would never normally risk such a venture braving the barricades of late capitalism, all for a man and his backing band who, last time they visited these shores, insisting on boring the audience stiff with a recently released conceptual dud before moving onto anything approaching a hit. But this is Neil Young, a man whose eccentric brilliance and baffling contrariness are tightly interwoven, and to celebrate his recent gargantuan double album Psychedelic Pill, he's brought back his steamrolling on-off backing band Crazy Horse for the ride too.
Any punters mistakenly attending in expectation of the hits - Heart of Gold, After The Gold Rush, Harvest Moon, that side of Neil - get due warning before the set proper, as labcoat-wearing roadies swarm across the stage to engineer the unveiling of Crazy Horse's trademark oversized amp props (complete tonight with outsized microphone too) to the sound of A Day in the Life, before the band join them onstage as a giant Union Jack unfurls to the sound of God Save The Queen. It's hilarious, unexpected, slightly too long and in all likelihood far more sincere than would seem right - sounds like Crazy Horse, right?

 Launching right into Ragged Glory track Love and Only Love, the band are in fine form, providing the messy but powerful force while Neil Young launches into one of the many, many expressive and unique solos of the night. Even if the actual sound isn't as deafening as Live Rust or Weld might suggest, they remain a formidable beast, blasting it out loud and proud. With the beautiful Crazy Horse anthem Powderfinger coming up straight behind it, the discomfort of the arena experience is swiftly forgotten - this is rock music at its most elemental and undeniable. There's also the unexpected pleasure of a brief acoustic interlude, which includes the beautiful Comes A Time, a cover of Blowin' In The Wind in front of a backdrop of a giant Woodstock flag (which, by all accounts, is a far better version than anything that Dylan could muster live these days) and a great piano-driven new track called Singer Without a Song, which boasts a roadie walking around with a guitar case during its duration, keeping up the gonzo theatricality of the gig .
This being Neil Young though, there's plenty of curveballs thrown in the way as well though. As well as the sprightly title track, two of the more mammoth workouts on Psychedelic Pill gets airings. Walk Like a Giant is already sounding like a Crazy Horse classic, boasting some prime riffing and great opportunities for Neil guitar workouts (not to mention some lovely, ominous whistling too) and marks a set highlight, but Ramada Inn, while boasting a pleasant enough melody, doesn't quite have the depth to justify its extended length. There's also the small matter of a ten-minute feedback jam (one for the Arc fans there), and the unexpected revival of the goofy Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze from Re-ac-tor. While most in the audience thankfully understood this as part of Neil's ever-wayward modus operandi, somewhat inevitably there were a fair few confused onlookers at points too.

As the quartet head towards the home run though, there's plenty of time for a few of the big guns to get an airing. Cinnamon Girl has never sounded this heavy or stomping, Fuckin' Up gets a lengthy call-and-response coda, and even old Buffalo Springfield number Mr. Soul sounds box-fresh. Rounding of the show is a stupendously heavy run through the iconic Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black), where that riff sounds as huge as ever before an encore of Rockin' In The Free World, the song that sealed Neil Young's legendary status on Freedom after a notoriously patchy and oddball run of albums in the 1980's. While much has been made of this potentially being the final Crazy Horse tour - although nothing is set in stone, and there's certainly no sign of Neil signing out for good just yet - what's more impressive is how they manage to stay true to their legacy of hard rock played with maximum looseness whilst still sounding totally urgent and vital. Walking back through the lobby after the lights come up, even the ghastly surroundings of the Metro Arena can't dampen the spirit of rock and roll liberation that Neil Young & Crazy Horse still represent so effortlessly.

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