Neil Young and Crazy Horse Host Hollywood Bowl Blowout: Concert Review

Neil Young Hollywood Bowl - P 2012
Kyleen James

Neil Young Hollywood Bowl - P 2012

The made-for-each-other singer and band seamlessly meld old and new amid a relentless, outstanding torrent of beautiful noise.

The off-and-on collaborators range from neo-folk to slogging hard rock -- with plenty of jamming -- in their first local show in eight years.

A Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert is not for everybody, but Wednesday’s blowout at the Hollywood Bowl was high-grade catnip for the converted. Put quite simply, if this music didn’t move you, you might want to get your pulse checked.

On a warm, windless night, Young and his 43-year on-again/off-again compatriots played their first local gig since the well-intentioned but often wince-worthy Greendale tour of 2003-04. And the show recalled their late-’70s and early-’90s peaks, with gloriously fuzzy and extended songs that put the “jam” back in jam band.

And the emphasis decidedly was on jam rather than groove, relentless rather than meandering. Young and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro squared off like it was high noon, firing guitar licks from the hip and delivering feedback-fueled codas longer than most bands’ full songs.

But for a guy with such forward-thinking ideas as the hi-fi Pono music service and LincVolt electric car, Young is looking back musically and -- with the double-disc Psychedelic Pill, due Oct. 30 from Warner Bros. Records -- lyrically.

The two-hour, 13-song set featured five tracks from the upcoming record, whose recurring theme is assessing the past, sometimes with regret. A lyric in “Born in Ontario” -- look for this one to be played at Maple Leafs games if the NHL can salvage its labor-pained season -- cheerily notes, “This old world has been good to me,” but the mood went south in the ensuing “Walk Like a Giant.”

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The 16-minute pseudo-psychedelic rumbler with a whistled four-note riff laments a long-ago missed opportunity: “Me and some of my friends/We were gonna save the world/But then the weather changed, and the white got stained and it fell apart/And it breaks my heart to think about how close we came.”

Heavy, man.

The first four songs clocked in at 45 minutes, ending with a mondo transition to a solo acoustic “The Needle and the Damage Done.” (This was the rare show where people got up off their chairs for the slowest song.) The song’s sad anger expressed more regrets. Then it was back to the new album for “Twisted Road,” in which Young looks back again, this time more whimsically but still with a degree of melancholy: “Walking with the devil on a twisted road/Listening to The Dead on the radio/That old-time music used to soothe my soul/If I ever get home, I’m gonna let the good times roll.”

But it would be remiss to say the show was anything other than joyful musically, ranging from neo-folk to slogging hard rock framed with plenty of free-flow jamming. The unreleased “Singer Without a Song,” the night’s biggest left turn, might have been at home on 1992’s Harvest Moon. Young, now 66, sang it in that singular shaky-sure voice, which has held up remarkably well. Introducing the new album’s title track, he said, “You’ll notice this is just like the other ones -- same key, same melody, same dumb guitar solo.” He’s right, but it sounded great.

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The visuals were lighthearted, too. There were giant prop amp stacks and a microphone, workers dressed in white lab coats or orange Caltrans jumpsuits came onstage a few times, and the light show  recalled the acid-tested overhead-projector days. Young, Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina sometimes played in a tight circle center stage, as if gigging at a dive bar.

With the national election less than three weeks away, Young was primed for some stumping. The show kicked off with the band standing onstage as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played through the P.A., but surprisingly that was as close to a political statement as he made. There also was no mention or deployment of Americana, the band’s rather forgettable album of rejiggered U.S. folk standards that came out in June. Young never even name-checked or plugged the forthcoming record, let alone his new memoir.

Despite -- or driven by -- a set list light on radio staples, this was the best local Young/Crazy Horse gig since the wildly entertaining tour that followed 1990’s proto-grunge classic Ragged Glory. In “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” which closed the main set, Young sang, “Once you’re gone, you can’t come back.” So keep going to see Neil Young, especially with Crazy Horse, as long as he decides to keep doing this. Because if the new lyrics are clues, he might be ready at any time to unplug and head back home.

Set List:

Love and Only Love
Born in Ontario
Walk Like a Giant
The Needle and the Damage Done
Twisted Road
Singer Without a Song
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
F*!#in’ Up
Psychedelic Pill
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)


Mr. Soul

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