It must be difficult to be Neil Young. Commercially and critically successful, Young has cultivated two separate musical images: the country balladeer of Harvest and the face melting rock legend of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Despite each persona being successful in its own right, every audience he performs to seems to expect the country singer to be there to lullaby them. Neil Young’s return to Adelaide marks his first Australian tour with Crazy Horse since 2003 and follows his 2009 Big Day Out appearance which definitely leant towards the country side of Young’s repertoire. Judging by the crowd’s reactions, comments and early departures, it would appear much of the audience was unaware of what exactly Neil Young & Crazy Horse sounds like and this unfortunately translated to yet another rather stale audience for a show at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
The twenty minutes or so prior to Young entering the stage to stand, hand on heart, while Advance Australia Fair played over the speakers, we were treated to an amusing pantomime with a collection of mad scientists milling about, arguing with each other and gesticulating wildly until they coordinated the raising of the covers over the gigantic speaker print covering the actual amps.
Given the colossal sound that blasted forth from Young et al once they started shredding, you could almost forget that the gigantic speakers weren’t real. Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, Frank Sampredo and the great man himself (wearing his favourite shirt-a faded black shirt with the indigenous flag on it), blasted through a number of fuzzed psych rockers, building towards Born In Ontario which oozed intensity despite being a slower track. This then developed into Walk Like A Giant, which went and went and went, featuring about 5 codes interspaced with Young’s trademark guitar shredding and wailing. By the end of the song, there was five minutes of Young experimenting with feedback.
Was it self-indulgent? Yes. Was it excessive? Probably. Was it unexpected? No!
Or at least it shouldn’t have been. Classic Crazy Horse, Young ignored the occasional heckle to let Crazy Horse do what they do. For those who really hated this, do some research rather than assuming you know what a group will do, just because the singer is the same.
Young followed this wig-out by then moving into some safer, acoustic territory with Hole In The Sky, before cranking out crowd favourite ‘Heart of Gold’, which made it clear what much of the audience was here for. As much as he had to do it and as much as the older crowd lapped it up, this section of the show stuck out like a sore thumb, such a stark difference it was compared to everything either side.
Having had this brief, but ultimately unnecessary respite, the group then cranked it up to 11 and ripped into the rest of their set. Standout versions of Cinnamon Girl, Hey, Hey, My, My and Buffalo Springfield track Mr Soul, gave them a chance to spread their wings and enjoy themselves onstage.
Most enjoyable of all though was Fuckin’ Up. This song summarised the show in perfect style: Revving up the crowd who were there for the right reasons and sticking it to those who were there for a Neil Young country hour, this song captured Young and Crazy Horse’s sound and attitude in a perfect, virtuoso performance. It also continues to give a profound insight into Young’s attitude, even at this stage of his life, 23 years after the track was released. In his own words, “I keep fuckin’ up” but with Crazy Horse, Neil Young doesn’t care, which makes for a great show.