Concert Review | Neil Young brings sound, fury to TD Garden
Veteran rocker impresses with longtime band, Crazy Horse
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 07:11
For any musician or band who has had a career spanning more than four decades, it’s usually fair to assume that their peak performing years are long past. While there are many bands with impressive, lengthy resumes that continue to tour, sometimes their concerts can seem stale — a glimpse of their former greatness. But on Monday night at the TD Garden in Boston, Neil Young and Crazy Horse gave a thunderous performance that proved that they are one of the true exceptions to that trend. Energetic, loud and vital, Young and company’s concert was stunning for an artist of any age, let alone for someone who is 67.
Once opener Patti Smith finished her incendiary set, roadies dressed in white lab coats scurried out on stage, preparing the equipment and pretending to tend to the four oversized Fender amps. All of this echoed the former stage designs for Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps” (1979) and “Ragged Glory” (1990) tours from decades earlier, complete with the same oversized microphone that descended from the rafters right before Young took the stage. With a huge American flag hanging in the background, Young and Crazy Horse walked onto the stage and proudly stood at attention for the National Anthem. Needless to say, it was a strange beginning to a concert.
Despite the unusual opening, Young and company quickly got down to business. The American flag was quickly replaced by the Crazy Horse logo. Waves of Young’s hallmark distortion and feedback began sounding from the speakers. Launching into “Love and Only Love,” Young and Crazy Horse struck the first bone−rattling chords that slowly morphed into the song, with their garage band style rumblings evoking the image of an old engine revving up into gear.
Part of what made the concert so impressive was the vigor and energy with which Young threw himself into the music. His guitar playing was a marvel to watch. He aggressively attacked his guitar and extracted tortured notes from the instrument, which allowed for a mesmerizing performance. Crazy Horse was right behind him the whole time, with guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampredo trading guitar riffs with Young and gleefully adding to the cacophony of noise onstage. All of this controlled musical chaos was anchored by the rhythm section, featuring bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina. Throughout the night, the playing vacillated between tight and focused to loose and messy, adding a welcome element of unpredictability to the concert.
Young gave members of the group plenty of opportunities to showcase their talents, with a set that flowed seamlessly from one song into the other. Even though a large portion of the set was devoted to new material from its 2012 album, “Psychedelic Pill,” the band played the songs with such seeming effortlessness that it felt as if they were old favorites that Young had been performing for years. New songs like “Ramada Inn” worked well with classics like “Cinnamon Girl” and “Powderfinger,” all of which were complemented by the continuous waves of feedback.
One standout was new song “Walk Like a Giant,” which clocked in at nearly half an hour. During the song, Young stomped furiously on the stage. The song finished with a simulated storm and roughly 10 minutes worth of feedback. This was one of the only excessive parts of the concert, since the feedback had no real musical value.
After this, Young gave Crazy Horse a brief respite, opting to perform a few solo acoustic pieces. Here, he highlighted the strength of his unmistakable, high−pitched voice, still in remarkably good shape after all these decades. The best moment of this section was easily “The Needle and the Damage Done,” with Young delivering a haunting performance of one of his most famous songs.
Following the acoustic section, Crazy Horse returned to the stage for the remainder of the concert, continuing to deliver powerful renditions of songs one after the other. This all culminated in an inspired set closer, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” with the entire audience singing along to one of Young’s most well−known and beloved songs. The crowd cheered as Young sang the famous line, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” — a fitting description for the legendary rocker, whose Monday concert indicated he will not go quietly into the final part of his career.