Sunday, June 16, 2013

Neil Young and Crazy Horse live at the RDS, Dublin, Ireland

As an interruption to the usual posts about Neil Young's albums (though a post about Harvest has not been forgotten, it is on its way I promise), I bring you this short medium report on last night's concert with Crazy Horse at the RDS in Dublin (15th June 2013 for those of you reading this in the future). It was a strange mix of a terrific performance, changeable weather, poor sound and what seemed to be a largely indifferent audience. It was certainly in my top five Neil Young gigs (though it was only the fifth time I have seen him) but I cannot help but think how much better this would have been at another venue and with a more forgiving crowd.

Kicking off with "Love and Only Love", the band nailed their colours to the mast; quite literally in Ralph Molina's case as he had a pair of Jolly Roger flags flying from his drum riser. However, for all their energy, the volume of the music coming out of the stadium's speaker system left a lot to be desired. As usual for an Irish concert outdoors, the weather was not in our favour. Strong winds were cutting the sound from the stage as the speakers shifted in the breeze, the music getting louder and softer in time to the elements. Luckily, it seemed like most of the crowd were into it as they launched into "Powderfinger". I could hear a number of people singing (or yelling) along which was a good sign.

Young then left the older Crazy Horse tracks behind for some newer material. A stomping rendition of "Psychedelic Pill" led into the epic glory of "Walk Like a Giant". I am a big fan of the new album but hearing these songs live cemented my opinions of Psychedelic Pill being up there with the classics. The lyrics for "Walk Like a Giant" really resonated with me last night as I was on crutches thanks to a recent footballing injury, I too used to walk like a giant! Each riff and every solo, though diminished by the poor sound quality, felt like it was being delivered by musicians less than half the age of these performers. Best of all, the song's discordant outro was extended to the point where it became a piece in itself. The often overlooked Arc from 1991 is an obvious touchstone from Young's own back catalogue but definitely this was something like a hippie version of My Bloody Valentine's infamous holocaust section of their live shows or even Sunn O)))'s amped out drones. Needless to say, anyone whose only exposure to rock and roll is through mainstream artists like Bruce Springsteen or Eric Clapton have probably already registered their disgust online for this kind of carry on but to me this underlines why Young and Crazy Horse are not part of the normal, commercial rock tradition (for sure they intersect with it but they are not subservient to it). This immersion in sound is what draws me to their music as much as the fine melodies and harmonies of albums like Harvest and After the Gold Rush and the vast majority of music I enjoy would have more in common with those final ten minutes of feedback than with the rest of their set.

A new song, "Hole in the Sky" made its appearance next. I cannot say I was blown away by it but it was a nice contrast to the power of "Walk Like a Giant" though it did seem a bit weak both lyrically and musically compared to everything else played during this gig. I hope it ends up on an album so I can hear it again as at this point in the concert, the audience was getting restless, chatty and disengaged. Young strapped on his acoustic guitar and harmonica to give the masses what they wanted; "Comes a Time" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" were both played with that deft grace that seems at odds to the ferocious roar of Crazy Horse. "Comes a Time" brought the audience back with the strongest sing along of the night so far, even if it was only for the first few lines! Yet, I could not help feel that the couple of acoustic songs in the middle of the set took some of the momentum out of the performance. This sort of pacing worked far better during Young's last visits to Ireland with his Electric Band, the varied setlists of those tours lending themselves more to the acoustic numbers than the Alchemy tour.

With Crazy Horse back on stage, the volume problems seems to have been addressed to some degree as they certainly seemed louder (though this may only have been in comparison to the solo songs). "Ramada Inn" burned with a slow steady flame that again showed just how great these newer Crazy Horse songs are. However, I got the feeling that the audience were again itching for a "hit" instead of enjoying the tremendous playing that was being gifted to us from the stage. A blazing version of "Cinnamon Girl" exploded through the night after the last bars of "Ramada Inn", pulling the bulk of the crowd back into the fray. This was followed by a (very) long and loost "Fuckin' Up" where each and every fuck up in the capital from the audience members who wouldn't curse along with the band to the residents of the five star hotel right next to the stadium were called out on their fucked upness. The guitars snarled and growled at each other and the group's humour shone through with Poncho's sexed up vocals (he's going to take you home and turn you around and you can guess the rest) over the raggedy blues improvisation.

"Mr. Soul" was next, a wild beast compared to the original recording or even the Electric Band's soldierly rendition in 2008. The riff's resemblance to The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" was more acute last night but much like "Blowin' in the Wind" from earlier in the evening, this was very much Young's own. There were only a few ways anyone could follow up such a thumping track and "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" is certainly one of them. Young seemed angrier and more empassioned than ever as the familiar but endlessly rewarding riff unfurled around the RDS. Mixing the lyrics around and emphasising the fact that rock and roll would never die, this was one of the best versions of it I had yet witnessed (though the thunderously loud version from Young's gig with the Electric Band in Dublin's O2 in 2009 probably takes the prize as being the best).

This marked the end of the set and the rain was beginning to set in again. What would be the encore? Judging from the setlists on Sugar Mountain, we were probably due another 2-3 songs. Unfortunately we only got one more but out of all the songs, they definitely saved the best for last. As the opening notes of "Cortez the Killer" rang out, all the crappy issues surrounding the concert, from a broken foot to bad sound, melted away. From its inception to today, "Cortez" seems to be constantly shifting in its form and delivery and last night was no exception. It was less sprawling than on Weld but still looser than the one on Live Rust, it was like a electrically charged folk song passed down through the generations to Young and Crazy Horse. It was a piece of magic to leave us with before we shuffled out of the stadium and into the rainy streets beyond.

No comments:

Post a Comment