Any number of incarnations of Neil Young & Crazy Horse could have shown up to play the Hollywood Bowl last night. They might have done the rock-soaked musical folklore of their most recent LP Americana or the slightly-campy concept rock opera that was 2003's Greendale. They made it quickly apparent, however, that they were there to do Neil Young & Crazy Horse as the grandfather heroes of grunge guitar rock.
After beginning the show with a brief (and questionably sincere) salute to the American flag, Young and company launched into “Love and Only Love” from 1990's Ragged Glory. From there the set was a relentless flow of the soaring powerhouse guitar and richly layered jamming that defines the act as one of the heaviest hitting rock acts of the century.
With four decades worth of music behind them, the group, Young, guitarist Frank “Pancho” Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina, could have easily ripped through a greatest hits set. But we all know Young is not one to offer straight crowd-pleasers and half-assed renditions of “Like a Hurricane.”
Instead, the nearly two hour show, part of the group's current Alchemy tour, took heavily from the group's forthcoming release, Psychedelic Pill, out October 30. Standout jam “Walk Like a Giant” hovered around the 15 minute mark and like the majority of the new material folded in seamlessly with older songs including “Powderfinger” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.” “This is a brand new song I just wrote this morning,” Young announced with a grin before launching into “Cinnamon Girl.” (This is his favorite recent joke.) The crowd went wild, with much spirited dancing in the aisles and a consistent smell of weed on the night's warm air.
There was a playful theatricality to the stage production, an homage to the cover of the band's 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. The setup featured a set of oversized Fender amplifiers, multicolored road cases and a microphone, all of which were controlled by a fleet of roadies dressed as construction workers and lab technicians.
Young, 66, played with remarkably spry agility, often throwing his body into his guitar playing and flailing his limbs and head around while in the throes of a deep jam. His perfectly fragile voice was in fine form, as much of an instrument as anything being played onstage.
Young, Sampedro and Talbot, all dressed in jeans and t-shirts, had a playful dynamic and frequently converged at the center of the stage to rage on their guitars as a trio. They all displayed an impressive level of agility and stamima, especially considering that between them they are nearly 200 years old.
“I feel far out,” Young said near the end of the show, before reflecting back on the first time he played the Bowl 44 years ago, at the age of 22. He referred to the event as the pinnacle of his career. Whether he was joking or not, Young seemed satisfied with the thought of it.
Personal Bias: My parents played “Cinnamon Girl” on repeat when they drove me home from the hospital after I was born.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Forget Soundgarden, Alice in Chains AND Pearl Jam; Neil and Crazy Horse are the greatest grunge band of all time.”
Random Notebook Dump: Guitar solos to just float away on.
Set list below
Love & Only Love
Walk Like a Giant
The Needle & the Damage Done
Singer Without a Song
Hey Hey, My My
Hey Hey, My My
Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield cover)