Neil Young & Crazy Horse - SECC, Glasgow, Thu 13 Jun 2013
A sublime rock'n'roll show spanning the guitar god's varied career
Before Neil Young and Crazy Horse rolled into Glasgow there had already been online grumblings about the Alchemy Tour's extended guitar solos, feedback workouts and supposed lack of classics. It's a Crazy Horse show - what did they expect? Cosy campfire singalongs are not on the agenda. Granted, ten-minute noise codas which sound like a thousand volcanoes erupting aren't to everyone's taste. That said, shouting at the band to 'play some fuckin' songs', as one punter did at Glasgow, is, in the local parlance, a bit wide. It's not that Young can do no wrong, but he's never been the kind of artist to just 'play the hits'. Leave the nostalgia to the oldies acts; Uncle Neil is here to rock.
The pre-show theatrics come from the same nutty professor part of Young's brain that brought us the radio-controlled roaches of the 1985 Rusted Out Garage tour, and the Devo-starring sci-fi musical Human Highway. Lab-coated roadies run around making exaggerated slapstick gestures while the cases are lifted from the giant prop amplifiers, and an enormous model microphone is lowered onto the stage. The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life' blares from the speakers, its orchestral climax only enhancing the sense of anticipation. And then the band take to the stage, only to stand, in mock-solemnity, for 'Flower Of Scotland', with the saltire projected onto the back screen. Young straps on Old Black, his trusty axe, and it's straight into 'Love And Only Love', a regular set opener since the early 90s, followed by the mighty 'Powderfinger'. To hear Young's wildly overdriven guitar sound in the flesh for the first time is a revelation. The massive waves of tone vibrate through your body, while the fuzzy and compressed leads leave the head spinning.
Its testament to Young's vitality as an artist that the several of the evening's most powerful performances are of new material. A gargantuan 'Walk Like A Giant' takes in a whistled refrain, haka-like chants and several tectonic guitar breaks, before ending in a devastating ten minute meltdown of moaning guitars, howling feedback and thunderous drum kicks that would leave Kevin Shields or Thurston Moore reeling with envy. During all this, leaves and plastic bags are blown across the stage, before the drenching sound of rain clears the air. On paper, such theatrics sound corny, but in fact, they only add to the intensity of the spectacle. Also from 2012's Psychedelic Pill, 'Ramada Inn' is deeply moving, its Raymond Carver-like narrative of a marriage breakdown slowly unfolding over the song's long duration. The way Young leaves the refrain of 'She loves him so, she does what she has to' hanging over ominous guitar chords is achingly sad. A fine song on record, live it sounds like a classic, its tender melodies and acutely observed lyricism set to a widescreen, brooding arrangement. Two brand new songs suggest that Young is on a winning streak. 'Hole In The Sky' showcases the rough-hewn beauty of Crazy Horse's harmonies, while 'Singer Without A Song' is a touching piano ballad, accompanied by a guitar-toting young woman wandering listlessly around the stage.
An acoustic interlude of 'Heart of Gold' placates the Harvest fans, but far more exciting are the dips into the Buffalo Springfield songbook (a raging 'Mr Soul) and the first Crazy Horse album from 1969 (a super-heavy 'Cinnamon Girl', complete with its immortal one-note guitar solo, and a gorgeous surprise in the shape of 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'). Played slower than on 1991's Ragged Glory, 'Fuckin' Up' is an orgy of dumb abandon, with Young firing off some of his wildest guitar salvos and guitarist Frank 'Poncho' Sampedro gleefully flipping the bird. I could have done without the bizarre interlude where Poncho ad libs like an over-sexed soulman over a sleazy beat, but then it wouldn't be a Neil Young gig without at least one moment of goofy perversity. And as soon as the 'Horse rear back into that gloriously dunderheaded riff, eventually obliterating it in a frenzied skronk attack, all is forgiven. Closing the main set, a magnificent 'Hey Hey My My' drowns the audience in 10,000 tons of molten guitar sludge. It's an overwhelming experience; music that is to be felt as much is it is heard. In this respect, Neil Young and Crazy Horse go beyond form, beyond genre, into the sublime. Quite simply the greatest rock 'n roll gig I've ever seen.