Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Metroradio Arena, Newcastle, England, June 8th 2013

What’s the point in going to see anybody else. Ever?

 

www.neilyoung.com

The stage is set. A series of giant boxes sit on stage, some ten or twelve feet high, surrounding and dwarfing a drum kit in the centre. The Beatles’ A Day In The Life booms out through the speakers along with the sound of giant metal chains being wound round cogs. Chains pull the lids of those boxes up into the air as a number of stage hands, in white Einstein wigs and lab coats run around enthusiastically. They wave their arms in an over exuberant manner and pretend to be incredibly excited at the appearance of the giant Fender amps being revealed on stage. As soon as the covers are lifted, the band walk on stage and for reasons best known to themselves, we all pause to watch a giant microphone get lowered from the rafters. Like a landing spacecraft, everyone gives worship to it before it all gets really weird and we all stand to hear the British National Anthem. As an opening to a gig, it’s daft as all hell, but I can’t help but smile. Neil Young and Crazy Horse are on stage and, before they’ve even played a note, I can tell that they’re in playful mood.

Once the lab coats have made their stage exits and the republicans in the house have stopped booing Her Majesty, the guys on stage get down to business and kick things off with a ten minute, rollicking version of Love and Only Love followed by a rip-roaring Powderfinger. As an opening to a gig (proper) it’s electrifying. The power of the Horse usually takes a few songs to wind up, but tonight, they seem to be on song from the first moment. It’s been 12 years since the Horse played Europe and the years are certainly noticeable on their faces. Hell, Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro looks like a completely different person to the one he was in 2001, and he seems to have slept in the Jimi Hendrix t-shirt he’s wearing for at least a month, but no matter how old they are – and they’re all approaching or have recently passed the 70 marker – my muse can they rock.

Psychedelic Pill, the title track from their latest album gets belted out next, and its punchy and tight (something not usually associated with this line up) but I’m still reeling from that opening combination. I begin to settle down as they embark into a gargantuan Walk Like A Giant, a song which seems to last for a week and a half, building from an impassioned, strong main section into a colossal, towering mess of feedback and effects, complete with the image of Neil clinging on to one of his giant Fender amps as those stage hands pelt him with a  wind machine and bits of polystyrene.  I cross my fingers in the hope that Like A Hurricane will enter the setlist but instead the storm the band creates turns into a soundbite from Woodstock, “No Rain, No Rain!” and then we’re treated a lovely, if somewhat slight, new track Hole In The Sky. I’m not sure about anybody else but I’m feeling a little punch drunk – that Walk Like A Giant was incredible! – and all of a sudden, most of the band take an exit and Neil’s left alone for his acoustic segment. What, already?

It turns out, only half a dozen songs into the show, that well over an hour has passed. Well, doesn’t time fly and all that. The acoustic interlude allows me to process just how powerful that first half was, and catch what’s left of my breath back. Comes A Time is simply divine, and raises the loudest applause for the night so far. He handles Dylan’s Blowin In The Wind with the passion and verve it deserves, which is far more difficult to achieve than it may seem and then the band trot back on stage for another new track, the beautiful Singer Without A Song which is notable for many things, not the least of which is the bizarre piece of theater that accompanies it. You see, wandering across the stage, guitar case in hand is some young suicide girl. She pauses every now and again to look around and then wanders off stage again.

After that, the second half just knocks me senseless. Ramada Inn is simply heartbreaking. A song I’d overlooked somewhat on the album, it may well prove to be the classic in the making from it. It tells the tale of an old couple and how they continue to learn to live and ‘put up’ with each other, as time goes on. It’s powerful, emotional and tonight it’s just awe inspiring. That’s followed by a sequence that simply knocks seven bells out of any other show I’ve seen in donkeys years. Cinnamon Girl, Fuckin Up, Surfer Joe and Moe The Sleaze (from RE*AC*TOR!!!), Mr Soul and Hey Hey My My. Try beating that any time soon!

Fuckin Up in particular was spectacularly daft. It began in aggressive fashion but then twisted and turned into some kind of pantomime of itself, ending in a near ten minute call and response section with the crowd that proved two things – 1) That Neil and Crazy Horse are really having fun on this tour and 2) Geordies can’t clap in time. Still, it’s hilarious, childish, baffling, bewildering and totally brilliant, all in equal measure. Some of it is incredible, some of it is a complete mess but somehow it held together, for the most part and there’s something quite ridiculous and charming about a bunch of pensioners getting an arena full of people to swear at them repeatedly. What does it all mean? Who gives a fuck, quite frankly. Mr Soul was really sharp and angular, Surfer Joe a pleasant little surprise and Hey Hey, my My simply astounding.

There’s another bit of amateur dramatics to enjoy with the lab coats and speaker covers before the band reappear for Rockin In The Free World, which closes the night off with real gusto and as the band disappear again we’re left to take stock of a truly incredible night.

 Neil only spoke to the crowd once throughout the night, but when he did it was a real zinger! “Sing like you mean it Neil,” shouted some fella in the crowd. “Sing like you mean it?,” retorted Neil. “What the fuck would you sing for, if you didn’t mean it?”

My word, do these guys mean it. That elaborate stage dressing is not just for effect, it helps keep the band centre stage, exactly where they want to be, huddled together, playing for each other. The fact that there’s an audience out there in the darkness doesn’t really mean that much to them. It’s all about the music. Standing watching the Horse in action is like nothing else. You just have to let that scuzzy, warm sound envelope you. Don’t worry about anything else, just listen, truly listen. And when you do, you get taken to places that no other band can take you. Ramada Inn being the prime example of it. If you can, track down a bootleg of this or any other show from this tour. Just lose yourself in its majesty. It’s incredible.

I wander out from the Metro Arena in somewhat of a daze. Old men are collapsing around me, unable to take the drink and heat they used to many years ago. Young teenagers are dragging their parents homeward and  it’s obvious the show wasn’t for everybody in the hall for there are a few dissenting voices around me, complaining about the lack of hits (?!?) and such like. “Well he was really good Dad, but he doesn’t half go on a bit.”

Indeed he does petal, indeed he does. I find myself thinking, “What’s the point in going to see anybody else. Ever?”

There’s not much gonna compete with this, that’s for sure. For me, the show was simply unmissable.

Incredible, even.