Neil Young stomps out Boston's non-believers with the Horse
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“This song is for all you fucking doubters.”
So went a brief speech before Neil Young and Crazy Horse hopped on their feedback-laden time machine, back before concept albums and label disputes and media confusion would come to dominate the discussion over Young and his music, before Young hit those first punishing chords in dropped-D tuning before the band pulverized the hard-crunching “Cinnamon Girl” into submission.
Pulled from the Crazy Horse archives, as Young sometimes likes to say, it was a brilliant reminder that the display taking place that night — two and a half hours of gut-bucket rock and roll at Boston’s TD Garden that ranged from loud to louder — was not some bizarre new direction or momentary fascination. This was, some would argue, Young at his most pure, with his greatest band behind him, pushing into territory few have ever ventured, and none as brazenly and furiously as him.
And truly, it was furious. Young and the Horse were in full attack mode, pushing the limits of noise and stomp while obviously having a ball. Young was at one point rolling on the stage while pulling on his Les Paul’s strings, with rhythm guitarist Poncho Sampedro laughing, playing and eventually helping him up. Young joked with the crowd, mourned the current NHL lockout and kept a happy spirit to the show.
The theater of the evening certainly wasn’t lost. Reviving the oversized Fender amps and equipment from the original 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour and the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” introduction, there was a nod to the past but also an acknowledgement of the moment. The playing of a pre-recorded “Star Spangled Banner” worthy of a freshman football game before the first song, with Young, Crazy Horse and the crew standing in deference, was at once absurd and sweet.
But the real nature of the show belied Young’s sunny personality. Beyond the jokes and props and smiles, there was the continuing mission to make uncompromising music. Even now, there exists a reality where the simple act of touring with Crazy Horse is an act of defiance. Young shunned a money making Buffalo Springfield reunion to reconvene with his noise-wielding brothers, leading to moments where they’ll summon demonic feedback instead of the nostaligic pop of “For What It’s Worth,” for instance.
Instead, coming out of “Cinnamon Girl,” Young and the Horse churned into “Fuckin’ Up,” which mutated into a bass-heavy jam centered on the repeating vocal frame of “You’re such a fuck up/You’re such a FUCK up/You’re such a FUCK up/You’re such a FUCK UP.” The guitars churn up, come back down, while the rhythm plods away in that way that Crazy Horse has turned into a signature.
And the extremes weren’t isolated to that one song. The band opened with “Love and Only Love,” a gem from 1990’s Ragged Glory that approached the 20-minute mark. “Walk Like a Giant,” from the band’s latest album Psychedelic Pill, featured a feedback coda that went on for five minutes. Even the encore of “Farmer John” had the band singing twisted glee. Only the acoustic numbers in the middle of the show provided relief from the aural assault, and even then, Young sprang an unreleased tune, “Singer Without a Song,” on the crowd.
If it’s ever self-indulgent, it is in such a way as to be in full dedication to his art. Young has built a musical life on following his muse and building a catalog that caters to what he hears in his head and what he thinks is possible on stage. If the audience comes along or doesn’t, so be it.
Of course, on this night, he was doing exactly what he wanted with exactly the right band in front of a packed arena, with the throngs screaming for more songs, more noise, more everything. Despite what others may say otherwise, this was Young at his most powerful, slaying dragons with his guitar and giving weight to songs the way no one else dares to.
Speeches addressed to doubters, then, were destined to fall on deaf ears. These people understand, as much as anyone can understand the beauty in a dying amp, an aging band and an endless jam.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org