To be a fan of Neil Young means that one has to follow strange and varied paths, listen to songs both accessible and distant, and play in the garden of ideas. In truth, one must unpack the extraordinary Youngian knot, which continually evolves and re-ties itself. Those who know this, know that when he brings Crazy Horse along for the ride things are going to get a little ragged, a little harsh, and a whole lot challenging.
Young and company were in true form as the opening theatre played out. Crew members, dressed as construction workers and lab technicians, began the evening unpacking what would become extremely large replicas of Fender amplifiers. Then a large microphone prop descended from the rafters to take center stage as a kind of Clarkeian monolith draped with ribbon streamers that drifted in the mechanically induced breeze. And all this occurred as The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” played over the PA system. Following the creation of this tableau was the performance of “O Canada” with Young, guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot, and drummer Ralph Molina standing shoulder to shoulder with the crew and singing along with the canned music.
Neil Young with Crazy Horse (The Alchemy Tour)
Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary | November 13, 2012
Photography by: Charles Hope
Having grown this surreal setting, they took up their instruments and proceeded to explore “Love and Only Love” while standing in a tight huddle around the drum kit, barely moving and focused on each other and only casually acknowledging the audience with quick glances over shoulders.
Young, like the Alice of that other surreal adventure, had taken the pill and shrunk to miniature size between those replica Fender amps; we could follow if we so desired. Young wasn’t there to tell us what to do, only offer possibilities and if we came along for the trip, that was cool, but if we didn’t, that was cool too. It didn’t appear that anyone refused since the intense look on most faces suggested that they were more than willing to tag along.
“Born in Ontario” and “Walk Like a Giant” from the new album received a strong response as the band grunged through them with anger, angst, and a gentle fury as only Young can provide. Then he turned things on their side as he sang “The Needle and the Damage Done”, an acoustic classic as emotional to the ear as it was when first released in the early 70s. Later in the evening they returned to this quieter sound with “Cinnamon Girl”, but pretty much the rest of the evening was from the Crazy Horse bags of thrash and crash.
“F*!#in’ Up”, “Ramada Inn”, “Cortez the Killer”, and the ever powerful “Hey, Hey, My My (Into the Black)”, which ended the show, took the audience through terrains of sound and power that could have been painful, but carefully walked the fine line between wonder and noise.
This was the Alchemy Tour, but instead of soft materials being turned into precious metals, we found our minds hard and cynical after a long day slowly turned malleable by the increasingly dense textures and sonic sensibilities that are Neil Young and Crazy Horse. An associated Neil Young web site listed tonight’s adventure as show 340 with this Crazy Horse lineup; may there be as many more adventures to follow.