live review

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

March 19 2013
TSB Arena, Wellington

Reviewed by Natalie Finnigan
20th March 2013

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – there are very few acts which inspire such extreme levels of anticipation. I got the feeling that the many life-long fans would have been disappointed by anything less than a display of Young and his psych-rocker cohorts at the peak of their powers – thankfully, this was not an issue. If you shut your eyes you could very easily believe the ‘Crazy Horse analogue time machine’ had worked its magic, and you had been transported back to 1978.

Young and Crazy Horse band mates Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro (guitar) delivered an impeccable performance. Their voices have always melded powerfully, but hearing them in person for the first time was spectacular. They were super tight, and even though they spent very large chunks of time huddled in front of the drum-kit, jamming out in a way that resembled old men shuffling around on walking frames (I’m not taking a jab at their age, it was actually what they looked like), they rocked out like no time had passed since their inception over 35 years ago.

The show can probably best be described, to quote a friend, as a ‘grungetastic’ display of the powers of the effect pedal. Young loves experimenting with the sounds he can create on his beloved Old Black. Though I’d probably prefer to watch one of the greatest songwriters of all time sing another one of his songs, rather than fiddle with his whammy bar for ten minutes straight, it’s obviously what he wants to play and that’s always what Crazy Horse have been about. I imagine Harvest fans were disappointed that their calls for 'Old Man' and 'Harvest Moon' (really?) went unanswered , but tough shit guys, this was Crazy Horse, what did you expect? In fact, Young couldn’t have made a clearer statement than when one of his roadies emerged from back stage carrying a giant Harvest Record and he shooed him off the stage. The show was about rough, raw, loud rock’n’roll, and that’s what the audience got.

A number of the songs in the set were from recent albums Psychedelic Pill and Americana (2012). The audience may not have been very familiar with songs like 'Ramada Inn' and 'Walk Like A Giant' (both of which are at least 15 minutes long), but I think they quickly, though rather reservedly, embraced the performance for what it was. Of course everyone lost their shit when the opening riff of 'Cinnamon Girl' dropped, and the reaction was similar for popular hits Hurricane and 'Hey Hey, My My'. I must confess I was delighted when the band left the stage during the middle of the show and Young performed 'Heart of Gold' on acoustic - the crowd even roused some passion and joined him in song for that one.

Aside from the encore act, when Young had the crowd chanting ‘You’re just a fuck-up’, or the beginning of the show when the band and roadies lead the crowd in a rendition of God Defend New Zealand, there weren’t many opportunities for the crowd to actively engage with what was happening on stage. Young has never been the kind of performer whose focus is on whipping the crowd into a frenzy. He’s more of a ‘are you picking up what I’m laying down?’ kind of guy – your job is to sit/stand/sway there and let the music overwhelm you. He’s trying to create a soundscape full of imagery and atmosphere, and I think he does it very well.

There were elements of the stage show that fell flat for me. I think the music spoke for itself enough that they probably could have done without the odd, mad-professor roadies and the lost lady wandering the stage with a guitar case during Young’s performance of the as-yet unreleased 'Singer Without A Song'.

Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the sound was brilliant. There is always a sense of dread that descends when a promoter announces that one of your favourite artists of all time will be performing at the TSB Bank arena. It’s not unusual that what should be one of the best concerts you’ve ever heard will instead resemble a cacophony of ambulances arriving backstage in unison.

I don’t know shit about sound, but I know that overall volume levels are a crucial factor when designing sound at TSB, and the person behind the desk last night had the good sense to temper the desire to melt everyone’s faces with the need for the melodic elements of Young’s songs to be heard through the blare of the heavily-distorted guitars.

In summary, the show was exactly what Crazy Horse fans should have expected, and a testament to Young’s enduring passion for rock’n’roll. He’s been described as uncompromising. I think that’s an apt word for a man who has always made music that confounded expectations.


Love and Only Love
Born in Ontario
Walk Like A Giant
Hole In The Sky
Heart of Gold
Twisted Road
Singer Without A Song
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
Sedan Delivery
Hey Hey, My My

Opera Star
Fuckin’ Up

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Neil Young and Crazy Horse

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