How typical of the idiosyncratic, sometimes curmudgeonly, always unique Neil Young to amble on stage and effectively jam for five minutes with his band before turning to the audience and uttering his first lyric.
Trends ebb and flow, fashions swell and recede. Mr Young rides roughshod over such impermanence with dogged credibility and copper-bottomed authenticity. Young has been doing what he wants, how he wants to for 40 years, breaking moulds, smashing stereotypes and challenging convention every step of the way.
‘Love and Only Love’ was a ten-minute set opener highlighting all the hallmarks of Young’s Crazy Horse canon: biting guitar, powerful bass and a tender, personal narrative. When the crowd bellowed Love and only love will endure over a sawing riff and pulsing bassline, they believed every word.
Hyde Park had been turned into a mini-Festival site for this series of British Summer Time gigs. About four other stages dotted the perimeter, the concession village was purveying top quality fodder and the band’s view from the stage was framed by ferris wheels and chairoplanes at the back.
All these secondary attractions were banished by the band though. ‘Going Home’ was next up with Poncho Sampredo and Young serving up another 10 minutes or so of guitar maelstrom and bristling energy. Crazy Horse bassist Billy Talbot is ill right now, so Rick Rosas had stepped in. A regular in Young’s other projects, the transition was seamless.
‘Days That Used To Be’ took the intensity down a notch and the when the band settled into a beautiful, rare electric, version of ‘After The Gold Rush’ Young began to connect with the punters a little more. There were smiles, nods and a glance heaven-ward at the lyrics I was hoping for replacement/When the sun burst through the sky.
‘Love To Burn’ brought back the growling intensity. It felt a fraction slower than the album version and maybe a little laboured, too. In fact, it prefaced a little acoustic interlude perfectly. ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ was sweet and resonant. And where ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ was spare and searching, ‘Heart Of Gold’ was sumptuous and warm. The crowd recited every word as if a ritual. Tingling.
Young is emotional about, and loyal to the people he works with. He has said that working with Crazy Horse produces music that wouldn’t happen otherwise; a feel he doesn’t get anywhere else.
That is surely true. But he is still the leader. In control at all times. During some of the extended instrumental passages, a horse blanket could cover the three outfield band members, each crouched over their guitars and greedily feeding off each other.
Yet it is the craggy, jowly Canadian that dictates the pace, signalling inflections and injecting mood shifts. The Horse hardly ever take their eyes from Young’s fingerings. During ‘Love To Burn’ there’s a great shot on the big screen of Molina peering between cymbals to see what Young is fretting next.
The set proper came to a climactic conclusion with 2013’s grungy ‘Psychedelic Pill’, demonstrating clearly that the band do not rest on past glories; a riveting ‘Cinammon Girl’ with buzz-saw guitar and Molina hitting his fragile kit for six; and a triumphant, anthemic, fist-punching ‘Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World’. Breathless stuff.
First encore was a new track, ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up And Save The Earth’, with an engaging riff punched out on a battered old Telecaster and a heartfelt lyric, if a touch sentimental.
Having been thoroughly rinsed in the band’s emotional wringer of a set, this reporter was dreading ‘Like A Hurricane’ as a closer, which may just have finished him off. Instead, and unexpectedly, Young mumbled a dedication to ‘Our Brother Billy Talbot’ and began the mellow intro to ‘Down By The River’.
An epic performance ensued of light and shade. Again Rosas, Young and Sampedro huddled in the centre of the stage and exchanged licks as if they were in a rehearsal studio, oblivious to the big crowd hanging on every note. The two backing singers who had added colour all night, lifted the ‘ooh-la-la-la-la-la-aas’ to a spiritual level and heaved the big chorus into shuddering life. Down By The River, we all screamed, I shot my baby…
Neil Young is out on his own. Untouchable. Uncompromising. And still a little under valued. But not tonight.
Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos and Gallery by Steve Goudie
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.
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