Neil Young & Crazy Horse

support The Woody Crushburn
author BV date 30/07/14 venue Forum, Copenhagen, DEN

Here we go again. Once more during this scorching summer weather, I found myself entering a tightly packed venue to what would inevitably become near-unbearable temperatures. At times like these, however, the circumstances become bearable when, in exchange, Neil Young & Crazy Horse will deliver one of their legendary and groovy rock n’ roll sets. As per the usual agreement though, the support band is always the first order of business. With that in mind, I entered Forum.

All photos courtesy of The Noise of Living / Nikola Majkic

The Woody Crushburn

As an opening remark, I’d like to point out how curious this choice of support band really was. Having gained very little hype and with quite limited experiences on the live scene, The Woody Crushburn inexplicably got the prestigious, albeit questionable, honor of being the opening act for Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Why questionable? Well, because it is always a tough gig to open for veritable legends. More so, when the venue you have to warm up, is remarkably larger than the confines usually played by said support band. Putting all this aside, The Woody Crushburn did play a set of country-esque songs of the rather upbeat and hip variety. The lap steel guitar especially did its fair part to secure at least some form of interest from the crowd, as the sweet sustain of it and the almost ethereal edge that is to that particular instrument seemed to ring crisply through the hall of Forum. With that said, the lap steel guitar was the only really consistent part of the mix, with the rest standing out as an utter mess of unwanted reverb, odd fallouts of sound and vocals that seemed so forced and unnatural that it was hard for me to maintain an appropriate amount of attention towards five guys that really were trying to live up to, and overcome, the tedious job with which they had been tasked, in spite of hordes of pint-drinking crowd-members waiting anxiously for them to get off stage so Neil Young & Crazy Horse could sweep them away. It’s a shame, as their new single indicates that this band has far more potential than what was on display on this night. On that basis alone, I think this quintet would work quite a lot better in smaller, more intimate settings where their songs could be properly heard – but on this night, I’d consider it unremarkable at best.

5

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

As the time progressed from changeover to headliner, Neil Young & Crazy Horse entered the stage to grand, almost deafening applause. However, the applause was soon to be drowned out by roaring howls of feedback and distorted guitars as the four musicians on stage toyed their way through the rambunctious set opener “Love and Only Love” in a blistering version that lasted nearly 15 minutes. No moment of this seemed to superfluous and there was an inherent joy to trace in the dynamic interplay between these musicians that are all old by number, but not in action. As they moved on to crowd-favorite “Powderfinger” as the second song of the set, surprise was soon replaced by ecstatic joy – the type of joy that can only really be delivered by surprising moments like these where, even if you’d have studied the setlist, you’d still be surprised to see that they would actually do something like that. The slow-boogieing groove of the track had the crowd gently swaying along to the soothing tones, whilst Young’s tender vocals rang gently through Forum. Granted, the sound still left something to desire, but where The Woody Crushburn’s performance was unintelligible, Neil Young & Crazy Horse still got the message across in a less than perfect sonic setting.

Starting to form a theme throughout the setlist, Neil Young & Crazy Horse ventured into a slightly stagnant version of “Standing in the Light of Love” that unfortunately slowed down the proceedings a bit. Not to worry though, as the return of the groove was imminent with “Days That Used to Be” which had that simplistic, yet phenomenal ring to it that is the very essence of a Neil Young & Crazy Horse track. Gritty guitar solos, relaxing grooves from the rhythm section and the piercing vocals of a man whose voice sounds just as crisp as it did 40 years ago. “Living With War” added a spark to the proceedings that ended up setting the tone for the rest of the show, which signaled that even though Young’s lyrics often deal with politics, love or the environment, one does not necessarily have to connect with the message to still find some common ground or something to dig about the music, as it is done with such a lyrical and musical professionalism that it is hard, if not somewhat impossible, to not be swayed by the sheer groove and passion evident in body of work Neil Young has produced with and without Crazy Horse.

Sometime around the middle of the set, the crowd was treated to two acoustic tracks performed by Neil Young on his own. - The first of those being a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” with the latter being Young’s unquestionably greatest hit; “Heart of Gold”. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was done in a very stringent way that resembled the original in every imaginable way. It was not as much an interpretation as it was a tip of the hat to good ol’ Dylan. Young’s harmonica playing was every bit as nostalgic as one could possibly imagine, but the back to basics approach of Young’s voice, his guitar and his harmonica was as welcome as the warm embrace of an old friend. It fit perfectly and everything felt comfortably familiar. Much of the same praise goes to “Heart of Gold” which, quite expectedly, had the crowd singing along to lines like; ”I've been to Hollywood / I've been to Redwood / I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold. / I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line / That keeps me searching for a heart of gold”.

However, one of the most unexpected highlights of the show came in the form of the track “Psychedelic Pill” which, supported by the introduction of psychedelic visuals on the backdrop, got a party-vibe going in a crowd that was starting to feel the sweltering heat around them. However, during the tight display of musicianship during this unlikely set-highlight it was as if the heat was not even an issue, so long as the guitars kept chiming and the rhythm-section kept the groove going. The double onslaught of “Cortez the Killer” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” proved to be a powerful set closer, with “Cortez the Killer sounding every bit as haunting as it did that first time I heard it as a young boy, terrified of the title but intrigued by the music. The sheer dynamic changes between explosive outbursts and subtle, almost crystalline passages of “Cortez the Killer” made the hairs on my body stand up and sent powerful goosebumps down tingling down my spine, whilst the sing-alongs of “Rockin’ in the Free World” had myself and the remaining crowd under a most alluring spell. The introduction of a new song titled “Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth” as the only encore proved a successful choice, as the set – at this point more than two hours long – had begun to take its toll on both the band and the crowd. Escorted into the night by the last tones of the bands roaring instrumentation, I deemed my first live encounter with Neil Young & Crazy Horse a success. Had it not been for the occasionally dodgy sound of Forum, Neil Young & Crazy Horse might have triumphed further, but given the circumstances it was still a more than admirable performance from one of the most forceful bands still around from their particular generation.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Love and Only Love
  • 2. Powderfinger
  • 3. Standing in the Light of Love
  • 4. Days That Used To Be
  • 5. Living With War
  • 6. Love to Burn
  • 7. Name of Love
  • 8. Blowin’ in the Wind (Bob Dylan cover)
  • 9. Heart of Gold
  • 10. Barstool Blues
  • 11. Psychedelic Pill
  • 12. Cortez the Killer
  • 13. Rockin’ in the Free World
  • --Encore:--
  • 14. Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth?

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