How great was Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Boston's TD Garden last night? Well, let's start at the beginning.
I decided to go for general admission floor seats, something I had avoided for years. Since there were three acts - Everest, Patti Smith, and Neil and the Horse, the floor was still fairly empty when we arrived. We ended up at about where the fourth row left would have been. The crowd was well behaved, give or take a buffoon or two pushing his way to the front at the end.
Everest began early at 7:15, and played a pounding, grungy set, balanced by their David Gilmour-inspired guitarist at the far left. Patti Smith was next, and she really rose to the occasion, playing one of the best shows I've even seen her do (and I saw her back in the 1970s). However, I will review her performance separately.
While fake technicians in lab coats and bad wigs were "setting up" the stage, it hit me. I saw the "Rust" tour in 1978, "Weld" in 1991, and now the last in the trilogy, "Alchemy," all at this hallowed venue. The set up was similar - The same oversized fake amps, lab techs instead of "road-eyes," the Beatles' "A Day In The Life" playing over the sound system.
But none of that prepared me for this show.
I had many concerns. Would the crowd behave, or would there be lots of pushing and shoving? How would fans react to Young's new "Psychedelic Pill" material? Would people get into the really, really, really long jams?
Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. The show began with everyone, including Neil and the Horse - Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot on bass, and Frank "Poncho" Sampedro (sporting a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt) on guitar - in front of a giant American flag, singing along to the "Star Spangled Banner." This time not Jimi's, but an instrumental, orchestrated version.
The band started with "Love and Only Love," and the two-hour plus show went from strength to strength, from mega-jams to gentile acoustic readings, then back to rockers. I felt like I was being transported via Crazy Horse Airlines, smoothly propelled by powerful turbo jets, not knowing how long it would take or when there'd be turbulence, but I knew I'd enjoy the trip and arrive safely.
The secret to the show's success was the joy displayed onstage. I've never been so close to Neil and the Horse at one of these big venues before, so witnessing the interaction among these friends was something to behold and treasure. Young kept smiling all night, and it was contagious. He was clearly having fun, moving around and mugging for his friends, and it infiltrated the atmosphere on stage. Every song, going back to Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," was played with, um, soul.
Young kept things loose and lively with his wry comments. For example, to reward the crowd for their patience during the new material, Young slowly scraped a guitar string to simulate a time machine, while taking a journey through the past, mentioning albums like "Everybody's Rockin'" ("How did that get in there?") and "Time Fades Away," before arriving at "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere," and then played a rockin' "Cinnamon Girl." Neil said this older song was not for the "doubters," but for the "believers."
Another example of the fun onstage was the nearly seven minute distorted jam at the end of the new "Walk Like A Giant," which turned into a "storm," complete with debris blowing across the stage. This lead to the "Rain Chant" from "Woodstock" over the speakers, with the Garden crowd boisterously joining in. There was also a playful, improvised, extended coda for "F*!#in' Up," which could not really be described in a family publication like this.
The icing on the cake was a very loose jam on the "country" encore, "Farmer John," with Young encouraging both Talbot and "Poncho" to sing lead. Smiles all around, then it was all over at 11:15.
Afterward, I contacted drummer Ralph Molina to congratulate him on an excellent show, and asked if he'd like to comment. I also asked about his sight lines on stage, as I could not see him, except when he took his bows center stage. Here was his response:
Harold, thanks for your kind words ... I'm fine next to those amps ... like before ...I thought we did good in Boston ... Neil was really animated, the sound on stage was great, thank GOD ... we were having lots of fun, great crowd ... again thanks ... cheers.
Now, where is my "Live Music Is Better" bumper sticker?
1. Love And Only Love
3. Born In Ontario (Video here)
4. Walk Like A Giant
5. The Needle And The Damage Done
6. Twisted Road
7. Singer Without A Song
8. Ramada Inn
9. Cinnamon Girl
10. F*!#in' Up
11. Mr. Soul
12. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
13. Farmer John
For more on the show and all things Neil, please check out Thrasher's Wheat.
Young will be on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" Wednesday night.
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