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Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Forest Hills Stadium, New York, May 15, 2024


In an outdoor stadium on a stormy spring night, Neil Young and Crazy Horse offered shelter in a sound. Fifty-five years since the words “Crazy Horse” first appeared alongside Young’s name on a record sleeve, his loyal backing band has solidified a minimalist style that feels distinct both within his wide-ranging catalogue and the larger rock canon. For all their iconic work together and their vast influence on generations of grunge and indie rock and beyond, what other band sounds like this?

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On the Love Earth tour, Young’s first trek with Crazy Horse in 10 years, they remain as raw and elemental as ever. Doughty original members Ralph Molina on drums and Billy Talbot on bass are joined by Promise Of The Real’s Micah Nelson, who accompanies Young on electric guitar, backing vocals and during a pummelling encore of “Like A Hurricane”, on an organ that descended onto the stage from strings and rocked back and forth in the wind as he played.

The heavenly organ was a rare bit of theatrics for a show that felt as bare bones as you are likely to find on the stadium circuit. (Among the only bits of stage banter was a brief joke from Nelson about someone setting up the group’s “backing tracks” behind the scenes.) Often, Young and the band stood as close together as possible, plugged into their massive amps, bowing their heads as they created an unearthly rumble that seemed to congeal the songs into one lingering, psychedelic smoke cloud. While there were certainly highlights — an impassioned rendition of the Zuma slow-burner “Danger Bird”, a tour debut of Ragged Glory’s “Mansion On The Hill” that seemed to shapeshift beneath the weight of Young’s soloing — the overall payoff was more cumulative, allowing the audience to meditate in an uninterrupted blast of the Horse at its best.

With such a singular focus on the band’s history — even including a touching shout-out to their beloved producer David Briggs, who died in 1995 — the setlist was more retrospective than you might expect from a noted iconoclast like Young. While previous tours have unapologetically favoured new material or revisited lesser-known items from his back catalogue, this time the mood edged closer to a greatest hits set. The most recent (and most surprising) selection was 1995’s “Scattered (Let’s Talk About Livin’)”, while the earliest was a delicate “Sugar Mountain”, a song written on Young’s 19th birthday.

That pre-Buffalo Springfield composition arrived during a suite of solo tracks, just Young on acoustic guitar and harmonica (and a headset mic so he could wander the stage). In these moments it became clear just how well his voice has held up at the age of 78. While it was impressive hearing Young sustain the long, winding notes of “Cortez The Killer” and “Powderfinger” over the epic roar of his band, the tender performances reflected just how true he has stayed to his earliest visions. He may have observed being “a million miles away from those helicopter days,” alluding to the death of the Woodstock era in “Roll Another Number (For The Road)”, but hearing the audience sing along to these formative tunes created its own hippy utopia — that is, until the band returned for a particularly gnarled and elegiac take on “Hey Hey, My My (Out Of The Blue)”.

The Horse’s hypnotic performance occasionally gave the evening a surreal, dreamlike aura. This feeling was only aided by the bizarre opening act — a gospel group called Reverend Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping — and the presence of a stage crew uniformed in white lab coats. When the audience called for another encore after “Like A Hurricane”, Neil and the band emerged on stage and launched into a brief reprise of “Roll Another Number”. It was a funny, mystifying choice that ended the night on just the right tone of irreverence. When everyone is sharing in the spirit, Young reveals how the classics and the deep cuts, the spontaneous impulses and the strokes of genius, the trudging and the transcendence are all part of the same glorious story.

New York setlist:

Cortez the Killer

Cinnamon Girl

Fuckin’ Up

Down By The River

Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)

Roll Another Number (For The Road)

Don’t Cry No Tears

Mansion On The Hill

Danger Bird

Powderfinger

Love And Only Love

Comes A Time

Heart Of Gold

Human Highway

I Am A Child

Sugar Mountain

Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)

Encore:

Like A Hurricane

Second encore:

Roll Another Number (For The Road)



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