Saturday, March 23, 2013

Neil Young

Neil Young & Crazy Horse + The Drones
‘Psychedelic Pill’ LP Tour
TSB Arena, Wellington
Tuesday 13th March 2013
This counts as the third time that I’ve seen Neil Young live, the first pair of times being in the mid-nineties at music festivals. (Once backed by Pearl Jam, whilst touring the ‘Mirror Ball’ LP, once with a more non-descript backing band).

I grew up with Neil Young being a regular entrant into my parent’s country rock soundtrack, usually as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or Buffalo Springfield.

It’s clear that for much of the last forty years of his career, Young has been trying to put these and his first couple of solo albums, (‘Neil Young’ and ‘Harvest’) behind him, periodically releasing challenging LP’s and touring gruelling, noisy live sets.

On both occasions I’ve seen him before, I was bored by Young live.

I actually got to know Young’s solo material better later on, so ultimately realised that I was probably to young myself to “get it” on those occasions.

Young has a bit of a pedigree of curve ball opening acts; clearly accepting the media’s ‘Godfather of Grunge’ tag by taking out Sonic Youth at the turn of the nineties (just as he’d been accepted and accepted back the punk crowd ten years earlier on the ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ LP’s ‘Live Rust’ tour).

I was therefore interested to see who he’d selected for the Australasian leg of his tour.

Being strongly in the “elder statesman of rock/living legend” camp, Young has no need to take out hip bands-of-the-moment to sell tickets, so one can only assume booked Melbourne’s The Drones because he likes them. So, what about them?

Never has a band looked so emphatic whilst sounding so ordinary. They’re like a bad Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, without any of the songs or charisma. Without doubt (and I’ve seen a lot of bands live) one of the worst bands I’ve ever seen.

So onto the main attraction. First however; Jawas.

Neil Young famously has his road crew dress in different outfits for each tour (his stage set for the aforementioned ‘Live Rust’ tour in the late seventies was set up by Jawas. It must have been really something to anyone in the audience on hallucinogenics).

The Crazy Horse stage set (with massive mock flight cases at the rear of the stage) is on this tour being set up by a mixture of mad professor types and hard hat/hi-vis motorway vest wearing workmen.

After the flight cases were lifted from the gantry to expose their huge mock Fender combo amplifiers (something that have been a feature of Neil Young gigs for donkeys years but was later ripped off by Ryan Adams whilst touring with The Cardinals) an enormous fifties style microphone descended from the ceiling and the band (including Young himself) came on and stood respectfully whilst the New Zealand national anthem was piped over the PA.

I’m aware that Young’s work with Crazy Horse features extensive improvisation but unless you are an absolute uberfan – ten minutes or more of guitar soloing over literally every tune starts to pale.

Yes, I know that he doesn’t want to repeat his early country/folk-rock orientated material and a couple of new tunes from ‘Psychedelic Pill’ are memorable enough to make it out of the mire (third track ‘Born In Ontario’ and ‘Walk Like A Giant’ are two of the most anthemic notes of the night) but the three hour set is fairly short on audience favourites.

'Waging Heavy Peace': wibbling like a stoner
Perhaps I should have been less naiive about this inability to self-censor from reading his recently released memoir, ‘Heavy Peace’ during which he intersperses tales about his early career and life on tour (interesting) with a good 200 pages of wibbling like a stoner about his new high-quality music download format. (A format that really, I would find interesting if written about in a concise way).

Whilst there’s a whole raft of wigging out going on on-stage, there’s not much in the audience. Indeed a young couple dancing fairly innocuously in the stand to the left of us are reported to security by someone behind them. A bunch of security, loom on mass before totally excessively dragging them out of their seats. A goon-sack was then melodramatically pulled from under their seats after they we're thrown out.

Jumbo meathead security? You shouldn't have.
I had never attended a stadium rock show before I moved to New Zealand and I won’t be attending one at the TSB arena again. Ironically, considering the couple were thrown out for disturbing the people around them (a warning to sit down and shut up would likely have sufficed) my night was ruined by this thick necked moron sitting on the stairs to co-ordinate the attack – and it was just that. To the TSB Arena bully boy security team: you should be ashamed of yourselves.

There were a few highlights: a solo-acoustic ‘Heart Of Gold’ gave me something to video and email my Mother and a second to last track, ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)’ was incredible. (Though some of us may remember Young saying that he’d never play it again live after Kurt Cobain quoted it in his suicide note).

However the lowlights (Nazi security, a weird theatricality that doesn’t fit a band whom plays in plaid shirts and jeans, self-indulgent guitar noodling for a full three hours on a school night) really eclipse them.
One more solo? Yeah, alright then...
The question that has troubled me since is, “would you go and see a non-Crazy Horse Neil Young tour in the future”.

At the moment, I can’t answer it. 

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