June 18, 2013 5:55 pm

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, O2 Arena, London – review

Through a thick impasto of sound the rock veteran delivered old favourites and new rambling jams
Neil Young on stage at the O2 Arena

Neil Young on stage at the O2 Arena

At the O2 Arena, Neil Young and his Crazy Horse backing band – guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina – stood huddled in a tight knot at the centre of the stage, dwarfed by four huge fake Fender amplifiers and a giant model of a microphone stand. They looked Lilliputian, but there was nothing dwarfish about the noise they made.

Kicking off with the 1990 track “Love and Only Love”, Young played a series of fiercely distorted solos, lurching back and forth opposite Sampedro like one marking out shared territory. Meanwhile the latter added a rumbling, fuzzy backdrop, overlaid by Talbot and Molina’s bulldozing rhythms. It was a thick impasto of sound, roughly daubed over the arena as though it were a vast canvas. True to Young’s obsession with acoustics, his vocals were perfectly mixed amid the six-string maelstrom.

He and Crazy Horse have a new album out, Psychedelic Pill , a series of long rambling jams in the high hippy style. The set sagged with the appearance of one of those jams, “Walk Like a Giant”, a plodding eco-lament about the corruption of 1960s idealism. But the song, which lasted about 30 minutes, ended remarkably, collapsing into a wild morass of dissonance as Young coaxed feedback from his guitar, and scraps of paper and plastic bags were blown on stage – a startling act of agitpop provocation.

An unreleased song, “Hole in the Sky”, continued the green theme in a gentler and more hopeful tone. Then came a magnificent passage of solo songs, including a tender “Comes a Time” and a vigorous cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Another unreleased number, “Singer without a Song”, was an aching piano ballad about being lost, illustrated, in an enjoyably eccentric piece of theatre, by a young woman mooching about the stage with a guitar case.

The volume went back up with the return of Crazy Horse, songs alternating between fiery old favourites such as “Cinnamon Girl” and indulgences like “Fuckin’ Up”, a drawn-out piece of stoned whimsy, bizarrely anomalous in the ultra-sanitised O2 Arena.

“A lot of times tonight we frankly sucked,” Young said at the end. The withering assessment had the happy side-effect of inducing him to play an extended encore, ending with the bittersweet 1969 flashback “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”. But his self-criticism was too severe. The show had an uneven but grand logic that only Neil Young could have devised.


www.neilyoung.com

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