Neil Young and Crazy Horse

19 March 1991

McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, CO


When an artist has recorded and performed for over 25 years, he must evolve and change, or somehow transcend generations. Neil Young has done both. This year, he's back on the road for a 50+ city tour of North America, with the same band that first popularized a sound that, over two decades later, resurfaces, in only slightly different form as "grunge", currently popularized by the likes of Seattle-based groups, such as Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

Two bands I've never seen before opened for the main act. Social Distortion claimed the better performance of the two, fusing several different popular musical elements like the blues, Southern rock, and grunge into one unique presentation. Sonic Youth, on the other hand, not only disappointed the audience, but downright annoyed the 14,000+ capacity crowd at McNichols. Borrowing Neil Young and Crazy Horse's theme of ending songs with extended, held notes, distorted by feedback, Sonic Youth took this form of expression to a baroque, ridiculous extent. By the time their set's last song had gotten eight minutes into its feedback, the Denver crowd began to drown out the strung-out note with unanimous boos. Three individuals in the 200 row even dropped their pants for a trio of moons in expression of the unilateral dislike. Though I find bandmembers Kim Gorden and her husband Thurston Moore to be uniquely talented, I simply didn't find their musical vehicle to be interesting or enjoyable this evening. Two co-workers, who joined me for this show, coined a new name for the band, "Chronic Puke".

Now onto the real show. Neil's guitar technician, Larry Cragg, opened the real show by lifting up an oversized mock microphone stand, and tying on a yellow hankerchief, perhaps in sympathy to the American armed forces now serving in Operation Desert Storm. The stage setup included many of the same oversized amplifier mockups used during the band's 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour.

But now it's 1991, and Neil Young and Crazy Horse, in the middle of their "Smell The Horse" tour, walked out and opened with "Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)" at full volume. Almost as if it were staged, the audience shook the building with coordinated footstomps during the between-stanza guitar riffs. With a nearly unchanged set list through this extensive tour, the band followed with an electified version of Neil's 1989 song "Crime In The City", sung in the electric key of B (as opposed to the acoustic key of A). After that track, a soundtrack of guns firing, missiles shooting, and very eerie sirems preceded a slow, emotional, and very powerful version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind".

Having released their Ragged Glory album the previous year, the band surely felt compelled to perform several of its tracks, including, "Love To Burn", "Love And Only Love", "Farmer John", and "F*!#in Up".

Collections from the vault included "Cinnamon Girl", "Cortez The Killer", "Welfare Mothers", and "Hurricane". Though Neil didn't record "Rockin' In The Free World" with Crazy Horse, he may as well have--it's most suitable. The N.Y. and Crazy Horse version is distinctively slower, harder, and offers more resignation than anger.

For encore purposes, the band pulled out a track from their 1975 Tonight's The Night LP, "Roll Another Number". Not much to say about the other bandmembers.....bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina stayed in the back, keeping the rhythm section going, and singing vocals equally out of tune with Neil's. Guitarist Frank Sampedro has put on a few pounds--mostly from bodybuilding, and a ponytail; he was almost unrecognizably different from his short haircut-and-beard appearance during their 1986 "In A Rusted Out Garage" tour.

No acoustic set whatsoever this evening--just the four of them, playing, by far, the hardest rock and roll I've ever seen.

[****] - Steven T.

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