Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Liverpool, 13-7-14

Writing this review, I have to first own up to being a long-term Neil Young nut. I don’t always like everything Neil produces, but there’s no doubt that he’s always interesting and challenging as an artist and has produced some brilliant work over his long career. He’s ever unpredictable and can often challenge his listening fans, with strange new works and non-crowd pleasing live performances. For this you have to respect the man – he doesn’t care what we think, he does it all for ‘his art’. So the question is, what is Neil going to get up to in Liverpool tonight?

The first clue is that this is a gig with Crazy Horse, his hard rockin’ band since 1969. Young has played with many other musicians, but his long relationship with Crazy Horse is legendary. Neil Young and Crazy Horse have been credited with being the ‘godfathers of grunge’, so it’s inevitably going to involve some loud and dirty playing. One disappointment is that regular Crazy Horse bass player Billy Talbot has had a minor stroke and can’t play on this tour. However, all is well because Rick Rosas, another long-term Neil collaborator, has stepped in on bass. Rick has previously played on many Neil Young classic recordings.

Neil leads the band onto the stage to audience cheers. It’s heads down straight away, as they lock into an extended guitar groove introduction to “Love and Only Love”, one of three tracks tonight from Young’s much-loved 1989 album with Crazy Horse, “Freedom”. Axeman Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro locks into a guitar sparring match with Neil, with a beaming smile throughout. Neil and Crazy Horse obviously relish playing together and there has been a lot of talk that this could be the last Crazy Horse tour, as the band members age.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Liverpool, 13-7-14

There are a few surprises tonight, as usual with a Neil Young gig. Second song is the not often played ‘Goin’ Home’, one of his best songs from more recent years, and featuring another great lengthy riff-laden Crazy Horse guitar workout. We also get ‘Separate Ways’, a strong but still unreleased song Young wrote in the 1970s, which will no doubt eventually be put on an album. However, perverse as ever, it sometimes takes Young decades to release songs, and in the meantime fans have to resort to listening to bootleg recordings. ‘Separate Ways’, like several songs tonight, features two female backing singers. Rather unusual for a Crazy Horse concert, but it works well. We also get 70s classic ‘After the Goldrush’, performed tonight as a band version, rather than the familiar Neil solo at the piano. Then there’s a brand new song, the worthily titled ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth’. On first hearing it sounds good, with a great hook chorus.

Picking up his acoustic guitar, Young declares “Here’s a song for you light-hearted people out there”. It’s not one of my favourites, but he plays his most famous song (and only chart ‘hit’), ‘Heart of Gold’, which gets a predictably rousing reception. There’s quite a bit of shouting and banter from the crowd (a few audience members have obviously made several trips to the bar). The distraction seems to irritate Neil. “Don’t tell me your problems – I’ve got enough myself”, he retorts. But he retains his humour and in the end he really seems to bond with the sometimes boisterous audience. “Here’s a song I wrote” – (pause) –  “one day” – (pause) – “nevermind what it is”, he announces, to audience chuckles at his apparent momentary memory loss. He then plays ‘Psychedelic Pill’. He laughs and adds, I don’t f*** up no more – those days are gone”. Ho! Ho!

It really is turning into a classic Neil Young evening, with a good mix of songs old and new, and a performance second to none. Some other highlights include a ballsy rendition of ‘Barstool Blues’ and the anthemic ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’, with some nice chunky bass from Rick. My only reservation is Young’s version of Dylan’s ‘Blowing in the Wind’, which seems to add little to the original and is unnecessary, given that there are so many of his own songs that we would prefer to hear. Nevertheless it demonstrates his great respect for Bob Dylan (“one of the greatest songs ever written”, he adds).

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Liverpool, 13-7-14

“Thanks for coming out, I like Liverpool”, he declares. The band leave the stage, with Young making a brief detour to inaudibly converse with the inanimate large wooden Native American Indian totem that he takes on many of his tours. More audience chuckles.

I last saw Young perform with Crazy Horse last year in Birmingham, when the band were touring on the back of their latest album, “Psychedelic Pill”. I was rather disappointed at the time, but, since then, the performance seems to have changed dramatically. Tonight is far more varied, crisp and subtle, but still a punchy gig, without over-long guitar grinds and perpetual feedback. Besides his trademark black Gibson guitar, he’s noticeably playing his almost equally well-known white semi-acoustic Gretsch, to good effect. Young is in fine voice and his guitar playing is really superb, aided by his peerless band and the truly excellent sound quality in the venue.

The band come back out for the encore. What will it be? There are numerous Young classics which haven’t yet been heard tonight, like ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘Powerfinger’ and ‘Cortez the Killer’. Then the Stringman synthesizer, decorated to look like a giant bird, poetically descends on strings from the ceiling (it first appeared back in the mid-1970s and features in Young’s concert film, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’). The band start a thunderous storm-like racket on guitar and drums – great – we’re going to get “Like a Hurricane”! I’ve heard this played many times over the years, but tonight we get a really thrilling, top-rate, version, which is one of the highlights of the evening.

Footnote. Unfortunately, us photographers were restricted to shooting from way back at the mixing desk, making it difficult to capture the close up action. I’ve therefore included a collage of shots taken from the video screens at the Arena, which fill in the visual gaps.

Setlist: Love and Only Love; Goin’ Home; Days That Used to Be; After the Gold Rush; Love to Burn; Separate Ways; Don’t Cry No Tears; Blowin’ in the Wind; Heart of Gold; Barstool Blues; Psychedelic Pill; Rockin’ in the Free World; Who’s Gonna Stand Up and Save the Earth. Encore: Like A Hurricane

One Response to “Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Echo Arena, Liverpool, UK – 13th July 2014”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Great review John
    Given your encyclopaedic knowledge isn’t Love and Only Love on Ragged Glory?

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