May 15, 2024

Neil Young and Crazy Horse played Forest Hills Stadium (Night 1)

On hist first proper tour in over five years, Neil Young has brought Crazy Horse out of the barn for another ride through all of their ragged glory. 

Never one to play by the rules and rather often do what's least expected, Neil Young has made a career out of avoiding the obvious choices. In the seventies as his career was hitting its peak, he decided to steer clear of the mainstream and headed towards the ditch with a series of dark, drug-influenced rock ragers rather than the radio friendly acoustic folk many expected (and wanted). In the eighties, he experimented with electronics and made records that people felt were aimed to once again sabotage his career. He would even get sued by his own label for making music that didn't sound enough like Neil Young. On stage, he would often stray away from the hits in favor of some deep cuts or new jams. Well, with the horse back behind him (and now including Micah Nelson on guitar), revved-up, and rearing to go, Young has decided to give in to more of the traditional aspects of his long, storied career and is delivering set lists ready to make diehard fans lose their minds while still keeping casual listeners fully engaged. Opening the night with the long drawl of "Cortez the Killer" was a lush way to start the evening, the band slowly picking up their speed while still following Neil's steady lead. Wasting no time to pump up the volume, it was a slow burning, but scalding track that bubbled with a magma-like flow, its oozing style allowing the band to fully lock into place as they crouched together mid-stage in that infamous Crazy Horse huddle. This version even included a "lost verse" which he's been incorporating on this tour for the first time ever. Swinging the necks of their guitars with serious vigor, the band cranked out sound with massive volume, never losing their footing and always staying firmly together while still letting their grooves extend with furious bliss. "Cinnamon Girl" picked things up and the horse hit their stride, the rhythm section picking up their gallop while the guitars laid things to waste. Neil dedicated "Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')" to the late David Briggs, who produced a lot of the night's songs, and remarked how playing the track kept them grounded with the Earth as they remembered their friend. They followed that up with an absolutely blistering version of "Like a Hurricane," the guitars fully ablaze in their roaring energy and endless spirit. It was a towering rendition that swelled with a fiery roar and Neil's solo ignited the night with a burning passion that would carry on throughout the set, an absolute triumph that elevated things to new heights for which they'd remain until the final bow. Hitting deep into his seventies classics, the band ripped into "Don't Cry No Tears," again picking up the speed and crushing all expectations for how strong they'd sound so late into their career. The hits kept rolling with a stunning "Vampire Blues," a track that had some of the diehards in the pit really feeling the moment as two underrated gems found their way back-to-back into the set and held their own with more of the bonafide classics. After a sweet "The Losing End (When You're On)," things went back up a notch with "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" sounding as forceful as ever and giving the crowd another wonderful sing-a-long moment. As the night progressed, the band would continue to huddle together between songs at times looking as if they're in disagreement or unclear on what's next, but after a few laughs they launched into "Powderfinger," a highlight of the night that put Neil's real songwriting skills on full display as his words and music fused together in their tightest form to deliver his pinnacle moment. To be able to experience it once again was one where it felt like the earth stood still and nothing else mattered, an escape from reality when for a brief matter of time, the music was the only thing happening, a state of pure nirvana that was overwhelming in the best possible way, a flood of total euphoria. Somehow he followed that up with a sprawling take on "Love and Only Love" that carried on for what felt like a miraculous eternity as he once again proved the band's longevity and staying power. Giving the rest of the guys on stage some time to rest, Neil picked up his acoustic guitar and harmonica for some beautiful and intimate versions of "Comes a Time" and "Heart of Gold." As he slowly meandered back and forth across the stage, he gave the audience their moments of bliss and as he hit the line "and I'm getting old," there was a collective sigh as reality set back in. Playing such remarkable hits night after night at the end of a legendary career would be sobering for anyone, but to think that this could be the final chapter from such a prolific performer really helped put things in perspective. As he hit the final segment of "Human Highway," the sound cut out and he'd be forced to end the track early, even after a faithful restart in one more attempt. Getting the band back on stage and looking a little frustrated, he dove into a sturdy and robust "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" the roaring electric thunder behind him as he shouted out in rage "ROCK AND ROLL WILL NEVER DIE!" Even with the crowd fully behind him, the sound would continue to hit snags, at times cutting out throughout the stadium leaving only the band's own amps for sound. Being front and center, you could tell the band gave no fucks and powered through, occasionally sparking some kind of breakthrough only for it to once again cut out. At one point, Young resorted to shouting through the pick-ups on his guitar when the microphone failed. Giving the crew some time to get things squared away, the band returned for "Sedan Delivery," a song they've only recently began to add back into the rotation much to the delight of many devoted fans, but the final knockout punch came courtesy of the timeless "Rockin' in the Free World" which sent the night into overdrive. As the song descended into sublime chaos, Young and Nelson ripped the strings from their guitars and destroyed their battle axes with fanatical fare. (During this entire scene, I couldn't help but think of how much Young's old friend David Crosby would've hated this moment and wondered if the two ever hated a heated debate around the destruction of their gear.) Seeing such an icon deliver a nearly-perfect greatest hits set is like a dream come true and to be able to see Neil Young perform with such stamina at this age is an unbelievable thing to witness. It makes you wonder how many more opportunities like this may present themselves and how much it can mean to seize them when they arise. There are still a few peers who are on the tour circuit and would be bucket list acts to catch, but few can hold a candle to what Neil brings to the stage and for that alone, it's an exhilarating experience that should never get passed up. 

Set list:

01 "Cortez the Killer"
02 "Cinnamon Girl"
03 "Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')"
04 "Like a Hurricane"
05 "Don't Cry No Tears"
06 "Vampire Blues"
07 "The Losing End (When You're On)"
08 "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"
09 "Powderfinger"
10 "Love and Only Love"
11 "Comes a Time"
12 "Heart of Gold"
13 "Human Highway"
14 "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)"
15 "Sedan Delivery"
16 "Rockin' in the Free World"

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