Neil Young leads Vancouver on a noisy journey through the past
Neil Young played Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Nov. 11, 2012. (Ramon Klose/CTV)
Published Monday, November 12, 2012 7:49AM PST
Last Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 7:52AM PST
“No more sad songs for a little while,” smiled Neil Young towards the end of last night’s masterpiece of a concert at Rogers Arena. “Here’s a song about a pretty girl with castanets.”
That was the cue for “Cinnamon Girl,” the first of four astonishing tracks that closed an incredible show in a maelstrom of distortion and dissonance.
Two hours earlier, anyone arriving at Rogers Arena expecting the gentle country side of Neil Young was in for a rude surprise. Even as Young and Crazy Horse (his greatest backing band) approach their 70s, the simple matter that the arena’s floor space was standing room only delivered a strident message before they’d even stepped on stage. This was going to be a rock show. Albeit one that started oddly – with the band and their roadies dressed in lab coats and mad scientist wigs, standing to attention to sing “O Canada” before a note had even been played in anger.
With a pump of his fist at the anthem’s end, guitars were strapped on and the mayhem began with a grinding 20-minute rendition of “Love And Only Love.” Young was straight into awesome mode, howling his lyrics and ripping through endless solos, stomping around with all the grace of a rheumatic dinosaur. The band, as ever, was instantly locked in, playing more to each other than the crowd, standing their ground together on one tiny portion of the massive stage.
“Powderfinger” was next, the Crazy Horse harmonies sounding as crisp as they did when it was first recorded. “Born In Ontario” won cheers for its lyrics, to the surprise of absolutely no one. “Walk Like A Giant” was the second mega-jam of the night, Young soloed with his effects pedals set to ‘Typhoon,’ before the band dragged out the last chord for what seemed like an eternity, battering it into submission and eventual silence.
Thanks to the excellent camerawork throughout, the screens on either side of the stage showed just how beautifully basic Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s music actually is. This is rock music where feeling takes precedent over accuracy, where volume overwhelms subtlety. The magic comes directly from the four guys pounding away, their incomparable chemistry developed through countless hours on stages and in rehearsal rooms.
The assault on the ears subsided for a splendid solo rendition of “The Needle and The Damage Done,” Young accompanied by 5,000 voices, followed by nostalgic new track “Twisted Road.”
Once the amps were fired back up though, the barrage continued. “Ramada Inn,” a new song ruminating on growing old, morphed into a third marathon of heaviness with Young’s effects pedals now set to ‘Nuclear Apocalypse.’
That was the last “sad song” of the night. “Cinnamon Girl” led into a beyond-badass “F***ing Up,” the most ferocious track in a night not short of passion. “Mr Soul,” a relic from the distant past, was shorn of its 60s optimism as it descended into heavy metal darkness. The finale, “My My, Hey Hey,” turned its innate tragedy (Kurt Cobain quoted its lyrics in his suicide note) into raw emotion, Young abusing his pedals as the band dissolved into a Sonic Youth-style noise jam.
The lone encore track, “Roll Another Number,” ended with Crazy Horse leading the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Young, before the roadies presented the star with his present – a rather spiffy scarf.
It was one last dose of reality from an evening where one of the all-time great rock acts delivered an uncompromising masterpiece of noise and fury. Neil Young’s getting old, but on last night’s supreme form, he hasn’t even begun to mellow.