NEW YORK, NY—It was like a revival at the church of Neil as Young and friends took over the 3,300 seated former Loews theatre on 175th and Broadway in Washington Heights that Rev Ike bought in 1969. Starting at first with a stoney-eyed acoustic set, the evening morphed into a raucous bang up as the Canadian’s warbling anthems stampeded and blasted its karmic bombast at the crowd for a searing second set. Celebs Jimmy Fallon and Donald Trump were in attendance enjoying the secondhand contact high that permeated throughout the venue like the body odor of an old lost friend.
The show almost didn’t happen as concertgoers were kept outside in the freezing cold until 9 o’clock, missing Pegi Young’s set, due to some fire code violation nonsense. Conspiracy theories abounded quickly afterwards amongst the faithful that jealous downtown corporate promoters might have sicced New York’s finest at the independently promoted event, to the ineptness of the venue owners themselves for failure to code the building to spec.
Yes, the show did go on as Neil took on his catalogue from the early ’70s to his latest Chrome Dreams II, a mash up of styles and genres, from back porch singalongs to ball- busting, spastic grunge. He also added a gently comedic between song banter that showcased his coffeehouse roots as he took on hecklers who responded NYC style to the prerecorded message that was played over the loudspeakers before the show that “Neil has preselected the set list. Please help him to concentrate by trying to pay attention to the songs.” After more than a few I love you’s and shouts for fan faves, Young relented onstage with a smirk, “I’ve thought about how to deal with you guys all these years, I just sing.” He then added, “I’m just happy everybody still comes,” and to New York’s bravest, “As long as I don’t go on fire or something!”
The set list was heavy on ’70s album tracks that seemed lesser known to some in this audience, and a few of the songs had not even appeared on any records like “Sad Movies,” possibly as a tease to the anticipated vaults disk due out soon. The rare tunes were received with delight by the hardcore fans, many of whom were attending multiple nights of the sold-out six-night stand, but some of the more casual fans wanted to hear the hits.
A red blazer and derby-wearing artist presented each song with a painting made onstage of the song’s title. The stage setup was minimalist with a gigantic fan that looked like a spinning marigold, a sole spotlight behind Neil, and a wooden Indian motif that presided over the festivities. His backup band was a concise yet prickly unit that resurrected Young’s countrified canon to its Nashville roots but also played up Crazy Horse’s garage band ethos with the bravado and testy nonchalance of some old school beer-guzzling hippies hiding out from their old ladies.
Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina provided the in the pocket beats to bass man Rick Rosas, who has played on most of the new ones since Freedom in 1989, and pedal steel maestro Ben Keith, who has been with Young since 1972’s Harvest and who also moonlighted on guitar. The quartet, with the help of wife Pegi Young and Anthony Crawford on background vocals, kept everything simple and grounded, allowing Young to weave his homegrown psychedelia throughout.
For the hour-long acoustic set, Young grabbed at album cuts, opening with “From Hank To Hendrix,” then into “Ambulance Blues” from the 1974 downer On The Beach. Surrounded by a battalion of acoustic guitars and banjos, Young lumbered then grabbed at each instrument between songs as if he were deciding what to play on the spur of the moment. On “A Man Needs A Maid,” he took to the piano, filling in the symphonic overtones that appear on record with some electronic keyboard parts that sounded like they were bellowing from a church organ.
On “A Journey Through The Past” from the 1973 album Time Fades Away, which has never been released on CD, Young played an upright tack piano that looked like it was stolen off the set of a spaghetti western. He played “Mellow My Mind” on banjo, turning the original’s slow and brooding undertones into a countrified ditty. He ended the acoustic set with the hits “Old Man “ and “Heart Of Gold.”
The second set started out with the countrified rock of “The Loner” and “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” then split off into the ragged glory and splintered feedback of “Dirty Old Man” from Young’s latest. Things slowed down momentarily for “Winterlong” that he played on the hollow bodied yellow Gretsh guitar from his Buffalo Springfield days, as well as “I’m A Believer,” which he dedicated to Rev Ike.
For the set closer, “No Hidden Path,” Young let it rip from his 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar “old blackie.” His twisted, contorted and tweaked notes of skanky fuzz shot throughout the hall into spitfired attacks of ear shattering metallic thunder as he paced stage left in front of the Indian motif and cranked out the set closer to Montezuma.
The final encore was “Like A Hurricane,” which the band slowed down, twisted and turned into a vamp with Young at the helm of the mother ship, morphing the ghosts of Hendrix and Cobain into a psychedelic orgy of sounds that boomed throughout the beautifully coifered, golden arches of the Hall’s interiors, leaving more than a few of the rusties in the crowd sanctified. For more, check out Neil’s Garage at neilyoung.com
“From Hank To Hendrix”/“Ambulance Blues”/“Sad Movies”/“A Man Needs A Maid”/“No One Seems To Know”/”Harvest”/”Journey Through The Past”/“Mellow My Mind”/“Love Art Blues”/“Old Man”/“Heart Of Gold”/“The Loner”/“Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”/“Dirty Old Man”/“Spirit Road”/“Bad Fog Of Loneliness”/“Winterlong”/“Oh, Lonesome Me”/“The Believer”/“No Hidden Path”/“Cinnamon Girl”/“Don’t Cry No Tears”/“Like A Hurricane”