Neil Young and Crazy Horse, United Center, Chicago, IL – 10/11
Photo by Norman Sands
Neil Young and his long time partners in crime, Crazy Horse are back on the road with a vengeance and tore through Chicago’s United Center on October 11. According to the “Neil Young Times,” this tour has been dubbed “The Alchemy Tour” and is considered the third episode of A Rust Trilogy, which began in 1978 with the Rust Never Sleeps tour and continued with the Weld tour in 1990. Appropriately, concertgoers were greeted with the massive Fender road case and microphone props from the Rust Never Sleeps tour and movie. The 20 foot tall microphone still sported the yellow ribbon tied to it during the 1990 tour which took place during the Gulf War. After a blistering set by Los Lobos the stage was taken over by roadies (alchemists?) in lab coats who slowly raised the road cases revealing giant Fender amps and righted the microphone with a broom. Neil Young, Ralph Molina, Frank “Pancho” Sampedro and Billy Talbot walked out onto the stage looking like four men walking out of a day of work at a Gary Indiana steel mill and joined the mad scientist roadies in a salute of the flag while the National Anthem poured from the PA. As the Horse tours the hockey and basketball arenas of the US and Canada this seems to be an appropriate way to begin a show. As the anthem ended, the band strapped on their guitars, huddled into the center of the stage and began the onslaught with “Love and Only Love.” With an intro lasting longer than the original studio version of the song, the band made it clear that this tour is about a full on assault with no song ending until it has been completely dismantled.
With two new albums out this year, Crazy Horse has plenty to focus on besides trotting out past hits and four of the thirteen songs were drawn from their upcoming release, Psychedelic Pill. After “Powderfinger,” which made its debut on 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps live album, they launched into a pair off Psychedelic Pill : “Born In Ontario” and “Walk Like a Giant.” With its stomping, upbeat groove and autobiographical lyrics, “Born In Ontario” was possibly the lightest moment of the evening. “Walk Like a Giant” on the other hand thundered on at nearly 20 minutes and lived up to its name. With a sound reminiscent of Young’s mid 90’s material the song began with a whistled intro and built to a climax with the band sounding like a giant rumbling across the stage. As Neil Young sang the chorus, “I used to walk like a giant on the land, now I feel like a leaf floating in the stream”, the band chanted “walk, walk, walk” underneath as the fuzzed out sounds of the guitars roared and the drums stomped underneath. Despite the wistful reminiscence of the lyrics the song still managed to present hope for the future as the chorus changed to “I want to walk like a giant on the land and I want to walk like a giant once again.”
Neil Yong made it clear that despite the return of the stage props and the inclusion of the classics, this show was not about recreating something that happened in his past like so many other artists do, this show was about the fact that this band is still doing what they have always done, creating beauty out of chaos. And after the chaotic ending of “Walk Like a Giant” with the band stomping around the stage, Molina, Sampedro and Talbot departed and Young strapped on an acoustic and played the crushingly sad yet beautiful classic, “Needle and the Damage Done.” He kept the acoustic on for another new song, “Twisted Road,” which once again had a biographical feel to it with references to his influences including Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and the Grateful Dead.
Young then moved to the upright piano and the band returned to the stage with Sampedro on acoustic guitar and they debuted melancholy a new song called “Singer Without a Song.” With theatricality reminiscent of the Greendale tour, this performance featured a young girl walking slowly across the stage with a suitcase as the band played. The fourth of the new songs played, “Ramada Inn” told the story of how complex and sad a long relationship can become. In contrast they followed this up with a story about a young man hoping to spend the rest of his life with his “Cinnamon Girl” off Young’s first album with Crazy Horse. They then blew the room up as they thrashed about the stage like a punk rock band flipping each other off and screaming, “Why do I keep fucking up?” during Ragged Glory’s “Fuckin’ Up.” The band stepped back a bit for Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” and giant microphone was turned by the lights into a psychedelic pill. The set concluded with a return to the punk sounds with “Hey Hey, My My,” which featured Young dancing in front of the massive amps before running to the microphone for an animated chorus which had him shaking his finger at as he shouted, “They give you this but you pay for that!” and grabbing his heart and miming a fall to the stage as he sang, “And once you’re gone, you can’t come back, when you’re out of the blue and into the black”, when he put his finger to his head like a gun and pulled the trigger. As the crowd roared its approval he ran to the edge of the stage for a solo, returning to the mic for the words, “The king is gone but he’s not forgotten…” as both crowd and the band chanted “Johnny Rotten, Johnny Rotten!” Indeed, rock and roll will never die and Crazy Horse proved that they are rock and roll. With a haunting encore of “Tonight’s The Night” paying tribute to fallen friend and roadie, Bruce Berry, Neil Young and Crazy Horse were able to reach deep into the dark with anguished howls and lonely whispers creating a wickedly heavy and gigantic beauty as they had done all night leaving the crowd with plenty to think about as they walked fully sated out the door.