NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE

Great Woods (Xfinity Center)
Mansfield, Mass.
May 17, 2024

Setlist:
Cortez the Killer (with the lost verse)
Cinnamon Girl
Fuckin’ Up
Scattered
I’m the Ocean
Roll Another Number
Barstool Blues
Mansion on the Hill
Powderfinger
Love and Only Love
Comes a Time
Heart of Gold
Human Highway
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)

Encore:
Down By the River
Like a Hurricane



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Neil and the Horse stomp their way through Great Woods

Neil Young & Crazy Horse live in Mansfield

Photo: Sasha Vaut

By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor

How to describe the sound that we witnessed on this night? Let’s run through the adjectives:

Uncompromising, loud, thundering, defiant and, as a great friend noted, rusty. Not “rusty” in that out-of-practice sense, but rusty in the unvarnished, unadorned realism of the moment. It’s not always pretty, but it’s breathtaking. And it delivers.

In the glow of giant-sized Fender amps and a racing horse floating among the stars on the stage, Neil Young and Crazy Horse plugged in and unleashed their furious racket that is uniquely specific to them. For two hours on this night in the former Great Woods amphitheater in Mansfield, Mass., the band huddled together in front of the drum riser, ignoring most of the stage to lock in and bring the hammer down as forcefully as possible. it was relentless and glorious.

Young will notoriously follow every artistic impulse that crosses his path. And while those can be rewarding, it’s often a challenge for the audience. I saw him on the Greendale tour twice, and he was great, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t waiting for the Horse to break from the script and cut loose in the second half of the set. On this night, there was no waiting. From the outset to the final bows, Young carted out gem after gem in the setlist.

Maybe the song choices here are the result of all his efforts with his Archives project. Keeping his head down in organizing a body of work that is rivaled by few might have spurred a reminder, or a sense of pride, in this incredible catalog. The result is a program that spans his greatest moments with Crazy Horse, whether they registered as hits or not.

It’s that study of the past that gave us the opening “Cortez the Killer,” complete with the final verse that was lost when the tape ran out, leading to the original version 1975’s Zuma ending with a fade out. He’s been opening every show of the tour with this with the newly discovered stanza. And from there, the guardrails are off and the Horse is stomping.

The slow burn of “Cortez” turned on a dime to the classic riff that propels “Cinnamon Girl,” giving the audience their first taste of the truly manic guitar work that has made his work legendary, and has thrilled listeners this tour. Bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, Young’s Crazy Horse running mates since 1969, are back to anchor the evening, with Micah Nelson filling in the second guitar slot in place of Nils Lofgren, called up to duty with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Nelson has earned his stripes with Young as part of Promise of the Real, and he fits into the Crazy Horse fold like a glove, laying down the rhythm guitar and egging on his bandmates with a natural ease.

As such, they’ll provide their own stamp to songs that Young might have first recorded with other musicians. Proving the point, “I’m the Ocean” slowed from Pearl Jam’s rolling gallop to a determined stomp with Crazy Horse driving the machine, while Young defiantly declared, “People my age, they don’t do the things I do.” He was in as powerful a voice as ever, grinding confidently through “Powderfinger” and “Love and Only Love” later in the set.

Speaking personally, getting anything from Year of the Horse, his criminally under-appreciated 1997 live album, is always a thrill, and this night delivered. Specifically, “Scattered” appeared in a tribute to late producer David Briggs, and “Barstool Blues” made its first live appearance in a decade in the middle of the set. (The following night in Connecticut, he dusted off “Big Time” for the first time in years, another Year of the Horse stalwart).

And if we’re playing the setlist game, the one-two punch of “Down By the River” and “Like a Hurricane” to cap the night in the encore felt like a fever dream. Nearly a half-hour of more furious, relentless guitar work on two of the pillars of his cannon to fuel the reminder that these guys are absolutely laughing in the face of age and time. The tremendous, thundering noise that Young, Molina and Talbot produce, egged on by Nelson, is a collective marvel.

If he seems comfortable up there on stage in Mansfield, and elsewhere across the country this spring, it’s because he’s operating within the world he created. Whether during his three-song acoustic break running through “Comes a Time,” “Heart of Gold” and “Human Highway,” or strapping his Old Black Gibson guitar back on to burn through “Hey Hey, My My,” he was in complete control of his art and his delivery and his message. Rust never sleeps, remember. So the work continues, and it does so at maximum volume with incredible power.

All of this is the culmination of a career built brick-by-brick with an uncompromising attitude. All of the diversions and exits and battles and curmudgeonly behavior have led to Young, backed by his most vital and sympathetic support system, blazing out on the road approaching 80 years old with a songbook to die for, and unleashing that brutal, unholy guitar sound on 20,000 listeners a night. If you can, saddle up, soak in the rust and smell the horse. There is no band quite like this.

E-mail Nick Tavares at nick@staticandfeedback.com