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Neil Young and Crazy Horse go wild at the ACC

Posted by Adam Brady / November 21, 2012

Neil Young TorontoNeil Young and Crazy Horse have been collaborating since 1969 and their shows together have always been the stuff of bone-rattling, eardrum-bursting legend. Distinct from Neil Young's legacy as an acoustic troubadour, when he plays with Crazy Horse, Young transforms into a snarling guitar hero, stomping around the stage and playing an endless series of solos while the band vamps on a riff or two-chord change.

The minute the house lights came down at the ACC and I saw Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina had a pirate flag flying from his drum kit, I knew we were in for a real show. The stage was set with huge Fender speakers looming on either side of the drums and a gigantic microphone center stage. Stage-hands dressed in lab coats and orange construction vests scurried about, rolling props around and filming the band on big, anachronistic video cameras.

Neil Young Live ACCI was a little surprised by all of the stagecraft, actually. It all felt very big — grandiose and well-executed, for sure, but at odds with my expectations of Live-At-Massey-Hall-A-Man-Needs-A-Maid Neil Young.

But then, this wasn't troubadour Neil — this was rock star Neil.

The set was really well-chosen, going back and forth between old favorites and material from the band's new record, Psychedelic Pill. The new album is two discs but just eight tracks long, composed almost exclusively of long, wooly jams. Believe me, it's a monster. Probably the best of those tracks was '"Walk Like A Giant," a fuzzed-out mess that I found as much fun to watch as it seemed to be to play.

The new songs really played well against the hits, but their sheer length wore out a few of the fans, I think. I noticed a few people fading out during the second or third break where Crazy Horse just made noise and stomped around the stage, and I definitely heard a guy repeating the phrase "self-indulgent" over and over to his buddies on the way out.

I had expected to see a few fans get pissed off because he didn't play "Heart of Gold" or something equally beloved, but really, Neil Young just isn't the type to play a greatest-hits set — and with 37 studio albums, trying to do so would be an exercise in futility anyway. Frankly, for an artist with a body of work as wide as his, I don't think they could've done a better job.

Neil Young ACCThe one song I can't make up my mind about served as the encore — "Helpless." Crazy Horse's upbeat take provided a really stark contrast to the version I'm used to; on the other hand, I think the classic version is a lot stronger, letting Young's songwriting stand for itself without the band getting in the way.

Los Lobos played just before Crazy Horse took the stage; their Tex-Mex blues definitely played right to the tastes of the older members of the crowd, who started boogie-ing (who thought I'd ever get to type that) as soon as the band started playing.

Neil Young Live ACCToronto country group The Sadies opened the show with a crazy-short set that I unfortunately missed because it was so, well, crazy short. One of the best 'sideman' bands working in the country, they've played behind members of Blue Rodeo, as well as Andre Williams, and even Neil himself, and it's a real shame that myself, and probably most of the crowd, weren't there to catch them.

At this point Neil Young is less an artist than an institution. He's been active for so long, and has written so many classic records, that the fact that he can play a set and have it feel not just engaging, but genuinely surprising, really showcases that fact that he's among the greatest songwriters of our time.

Set List (via setlist.fm)

1. Love And Only Love
2. Powderfinger
3. Born In Ontario
4. Walk Like A Giant
5. The Needle And The Damage Done
6. Twisted Road
7. Singer Without A Song
8. Ramada Inn
9. Cinnamon Girl
10. Fuckin' Up
11. Mr. Soul
12. Hey Hey My My

Encore

13. Helpless

Writing by Adam Brady / photos by Bruce Emberley

Discussion

15 Comments

skeeter / November 21, 2012 at 09:48 am
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"I was a little surprised by all of the stagecraft, actually. It all felt very big — grandiose and well-executed, for sure, but at odds with my expectations of Live-At-Massey-Hall-A-Man-Needs-A-Maid Neil Young."

I guess you never saw Rust Never Sleeps then? Neil's been doing the big amp, big mic stage set up for a long time now.

Adam replying to a comment from skeeter / November 21, 2012 at 10:04 am
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Didn't mean to have that read quite that way. That giant-amplifier setup has been a part of his rig with Crazy Horse forever, yes; it was just a little more overwhelming in person than I expected, if that makes sense.

...And Rust Never Sleeps is one of my favorites, as it was for I think most of the audience. When they kicked into Powderfinger, the reaction was unbelievable.
Dave / November 21, 2012 at 10:11 am
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Great show - and great review.
Brian / November 21, 2012 at 12:06 pm
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With all due respect to Neil Young; I think the reviewer was being a little too kind to the set list...
Stage presence, performance, etc… was all spot on. The man has plenty of energy and the showmanship was excellent. All the rock star glam without the excess. I thought this aspect of the show was excellent.
Where I think the reviewed got it wrong was the kind excusing of an old boy who had committed a faux pas. I wasn't expecting a greatest hits show but honestly, there were very few hit songs played and most of the material was newer songs that were unfamiliar to the crowd completely with, as aptly put, self-indulgent guitar solos/noise.
I sat in a section that seemed to pretty much be all old timers and I'll tell you every one of them was disappointed not to hear a lot of the songs they grew up listening to. Given Neil Young's biggest audience is the 50+ age bracket I think it was a bit of a misstep not dedicating a little more time to the classics. He should have appealed to his audience a little more by using time to throw in some more big hits rather than exhaustive 15 minute renditions of newer songs that covered little ground complete with mediocre noise guitar solos. I lost interest after the 7th verse or 8th chorus of a lot of these songs.
skeeter / November 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm
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Not playing the hits is how Neil rolls, sometimes. I was lucky to have seen him at Massey Hall and he played a wide variety of older tunes. And I also saw him at the ACC a few years ago during the Greendale tour. I went in not knowing what to expect and what did I get? He played his newest album at the time, Greendale, which hadn't even been released yet, from start to finish and then he played 4 or so familiar tunes. That's just how Neil does it. He's always been like that. He doesn't give a shit. One of my favourite Neil Young stories is when he was performing the Tonight's The Night album in '73, 2 years before the album was out. The audience at one show was growing restless from the unknown material that he was playing. Eventually he said "here's a tune you've all heard before" and proceeded to do the title track for the second time that night. Hilarious.
Ford4ever replying to a comment from Brian / November 21, 2012 at 12:35 pm
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Brian, I've seen Neil Young on this tour, and I hear what you're saying.

But what you saw was just Neil Young ... being Neil Young.
Christopher / November 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm
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Loved the show. Neil's not an old rocker who does endless reunion tours to play the hits to his dedicated market – he's a vital, current artist moving forward with sound and his art. All of those "self-indulgent" solos were beautiful, purposeful and intricate, and as important to his sound/art as the chorus to Heart of Gold is.
John replying to a comment from Brian / November 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm
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I checked out his setlists from other shows on this tour, so I knew what to expect.
The most self indulgent he got was at the end of Walk Like a Giant when it was just guitar noise, but other than that I loved the show. If you don't like the Neil Young & Crazy Horse sound, it wasn't the show for you.

The Sadies and Los Lobos were great as well. Seeing Randy Bachman and The Sadies play No Time was a awesome.
Alex / November 21, 2012 at 02:50 pm
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Neil is sure looking good!
j-rock / November 21, 2012 at 04:56 pm
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Neil Young is a national treasure. I finally got to see him at the ACC a couple of years ago, and he didn't disappoint. It was the first of a two-night stand I think, and for the encore he did The Beatles' "A day in the Life". It was a great night, and his live show was definitely worthy of the hype.
capttrips / November 21, 2012 at 06:34 pm
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No mention of Randy Bachman. randy and the fiddle player from the Sadies Kicked ass on "no Time". Very cool suprise!!
Sadie / November 21, 2012 at 09:19 pm
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Greatest hits or not, it was amazing to see Neil Young and Crazyhorse rock out as hard as they likely did in the someone's basement back in the day. It was pure, gritty, honest rock n roll.

I saw Bob Dylan last week and I was so disappointed by how awful he sounded (I knew what I was going into, but still had my hopes high), but Neil Young sounded just as he did back in the 70s - amazing. It was great just to be in the presence of one of the world's greatest rockers.
RobertB / November 22, 2012 at 06:53 am
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Loved the show. Finally got one of my wishes before I die, to see him live and had terrific seats to boot. Been a fan since CSNY, and was not disappointed in the least that he didn't play all the classics. The guy hasn't faded one bit with age. He's still a R&R powerhouse.
Justin / November 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm
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Guys, this belly-aching about Neil not playing the hits is getting old. If you are a casual fan I can understand, but don't claim to be a big fan and then complain. Neil has always been that way and us diehards love it that way. I've seen him 3 times, once at Massey Hall and now finally with the Horse. This was probably my favourite show. Massey Hall in 2007 was great too though, but if I went and he played all the hits I`d be bored out of my skull. We`ve all heard those, I wanna see what gems Neil is gonna pull out of his repertoire for us. Oh and there`s this thing called the internet. Look up the setlist before hand and get familiar with the songs beforehand if you want to hear songs that you know. Born in Ontario, Ramada Inn and Walk Like a Giant are amazing, especially live. Wish he played She`s Always Dancing too. I could only wish I was around when he toured and played Greendale for the first time. Neil you rock, don`t ever change.
Malcolm replying to a comment from Brian / November 23, 2012 at 04:13 pm
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I really have no sympathies for Brian's comments. This is 2012. Just check the Internet - you'll find exactly what Neil, or any other artist, will play on stage. And, yes, I did not like everything done on stage, either. Self-indulgent may be the right word for some of what Neil and CH did, maybe not; but I knew what I was getting in for. And, as always with Neil, the good stuff soared.

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