NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – Palladium Theater, New York, 1976

Here’s one from the archives, from Melody Maker, November 1976. If I remember rightly this was the show when Young appeared in front of what appeared to be gigantic speaker cabinets, like the photo below which I found on the internet. This was the first time I had ever heard ‘Like A Hurricane’, one of Young’s all-time greatest songs, during which wind machines blew a gale across the stage. It was one of the great concerts, which I still remember from my last full year on MM, though I seem to have been a bit uncharitable about Crazy Horse.

Only an artist with the charisma and talent of Nell Young could perform with a lacklustre band like the current Crazy Horse and still come through with his head held high. Perhaps I’m being uncharitable to Young’s most faithful musical allies, but the simple truth is that Young himself is so damn good he totally obliterates anyone else on stage with him.
         At the first of four sold-out concerts at the Palladium Theatre on Thursday evening, Young dominated to such an extent that Crazy Horse – Frank Sampedro (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass), and Ralph Molina (drums) – seemed in awe of their leader, and were straining to keep up with his energy.
         The show was divided into two halves, acoustic and electric, and the atmosphere was extremely casual. I’m told that on the current tour Young changes his repertoire almost every night, often including brand new songs that are sometimes written hours before each concert, or simply throwing in anything he likes from his vast recorded catalogue.
         Either way, Thursday night’s show offered eight songs in the first half and ten in the second, and, because many of the acoustic numbers were drastically abbreviated, it seemed short by most standards.
         In the opening half-hour he was greatly nonchalant. He strolled on from stage right in a shabby leather jacket, check shirt and denims, loping around and squinting through his hair. The first song was new – I think it was called ‘Laughing Lady’ – and it set a tone of simplicity that lasted until the electric set.
         Playing rudimentary guitar, always in the key of G, or vamping at the piano, Young delivered throwaway versions of ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘After The Goldrush’, ‘Too Far Gone’ (a new song about a bar in North Carolina), ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’, ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ and ‘Sugar Mountain’. Each song either faded out or came to a sticky, informal conclusion, Young grinning away and trading quips with the noisy audience.
         To be perfectly honest, he reminded me vaguely of Loudon Wainwright as he strained to hit high notes and jigged from one leg to the other in a rather comical fashion. That it was spontaneous was obvious; of the five guitars surrounding him only three were used, a twelve-string and a banjo remaining untouched.
         He encouraged the audience without success to sing along to ‘Sugar Mountain’, and, obviously disappointed with the response, he quit the stage with a remark about hoping his electric set would be better received.
         It was. From the opening notes of ‘Are You Ready For The Country’ there was magic in the air and, although the band were hard-pressed to keep pace, Young was on fire for the next 60 minutes. It was his guitar work rather than his vocals that shone; he pumped out effortless solos, making the best possible use of open string harmonics, maximum reverb and occasional feedback.
         Most of the electric material was either new or from Zuma. The highlight was a new song called ‘Like A Hurricane’ which combined a strong melody line with an ascending chord sequence that reached climax after climax. While it was played, a wind machine at stage right blew across the musicians, creating an eerie, outdoor effect that harmonised perfectly with the music.
         Elsewhere we had ‘Down By The River’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’, both powerfully rendered despite the sluggishness of the rhythm section, and ‘Helpless’, the only let-up from the constant rock and roll barrage, which featured Young at the piano. On the other songs he alternated between a black Les Paul for the piercing lead work and a huge Gretsch White Falcon for the mellower tones.
         The encore was ‘Cortez The Killer’, which featured a lengthy solo introduction from Young, strings ringing out like cathedral bells in the night. He left the stage without a second glance at the end.
         It was a wonderful evening, though one can’t help wondering how much better it could have been had Young been challenged by his accompanists. Still, even though the rest of his sometime musical colleagues (Stills or Crosby & Nash) surround themselves with the finest session talent available, Young’s choice of a simpler, more direct approach constantly produces better music. A live album is badly needed.

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