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Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Hollywood Bowl

October 18, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Singer Neil Young performs with Crazy Horse at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 17, 2012.
Singer Neil Young performs with Crazy Horse at the Hollywood Bowl on Oct.… (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles…)

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse played the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night -- but if you liveanywhere in the Hollywood basin you may have already known that. 

The hustlers on Santa Monica Boulevard probably heard Young and his longtime backing band catapult “Cinnamon Girl” out of the Cahuenga Pass like a cannonball. The gutter punks in downtown Hollywood might have caught wind of Young with an acoustic guitar drift “The Needle and the Damage Done” down Highland Avenue. One imaginary late-night jogger in Hancock Park perhaps wondered why she started humming “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” out of the blue.

Touring in support of his new album, “Psychedelic Pill,” Young and his longtime backing band had volume, distortion and eternal guitar solos on their brains. And anyone who’s followed Young’s career knows what that means. 

PHOTOS: Neil Young live at the Hollywood Bowl

It means Young and Crazy Horse -- Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums) and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro (guitar) -- packed tightly in the middle of the stage as though they were playing a gritty basement club rather than one of the world’s great outdoor arenas, lost in a jumbo riff during the epic opening song, “Love and Only Love” from 1990’s “Ragged Glory.” 

It means Young hunched over his Gibson electric guitar -- known affectionately as “Old Black” -- strangling notes out of its neck while standing in front of a Fender amp as big as the Ritz. It means Molina offering steady drum-and-snare relentlessness for two solid hours, and Talbot meditating on whirlpool basslines.

And  it meant a singer, 66, offering new work with themes that journeyed more to the past than to the future. He played a handful of songs from “Pill,” which comes out Tuesday, Oct. 30. Within this new work he recalled old sensations, music and feelings.

“The first time I heard ‘Like a Rolling Stone’/I held that magic and took it home/I gave it a twist and made it mine/But nothing is as good as the very first time,” he sang on “Twisted Road,” comparing Bob Dylan’s poetry to “Hank Williams chewing bubble gum.” 

But then, Young has been reminiscing of late, as evidenced by his new autobiography, “Waging Heavy Peace.” The book is Young’s attempt at crafting something solid out of his past, even as he pushes himself forward. In it, he describes fresh music and tunes as essential to his and Crazy Horse’s lifeblood. “They are our ticket, our vehicle to the future, and without the new songs we are just reliving the past."

Not that Young showed much interest in musical evolution. “Here's a new song that sounds just like the other ones,” he joked while introducing the new record’s title track. “Same key, same melody, same dumb guitar solo.”

Did somebody say guitar solo? Yeah, there were many, they were long and at some point, as is usually the case with a Crazy Horse gig, they did start to get a little redundant after a while. A man can only scream so loudly for so long before the volume becomes a new normal, and the same happened with some of Young and dueling guitarist Sampedro’s wailing freak-outs.

That is the essence of Crazy Horse, though, a band that Young in his autobiography describes as “a vehicle to cosmic areas that I am unable to traverse with others." He traversed, all right. And stumbled, kicked, jumped and bellowed. “And once you’re gone, you can’t come back,” he declared during “Hey Hey, My My,” delivering the truth as though he were in a rage against the dying of the noise. 

For his encore, Young ran his guitar pick down his E string, saying, “We’re breaking out the time machine, going way back.” He then recalled his first gig at the Bowl, in the late '60s as part of Buffalo Springfield. “I was here about 44 years ago and it was my golden moment onstage,” he said before beginning the opening riffs of “Mr. Soul.”

Like the rest of Young’s set, though, those riffs didn’t exist in the past on Wednesday, and they certainly don’t foretell some new future. They existed, rather, in the heavenly, vivid and transcendent here and now.

Another, equally vivid cosmic area was visited by “openers” Los Lobos, which long ago established themselves as fellow space travelers. Performing songs from throughout the East L.A. band’s career, the group hit a peak with “Mas y Mas,” five minutes of tight, rhythmic frenzy punctuated by Steve Berlin’s low-end sax runs and guitar masters David Hidalgo, Louie Perez and Cesar Rosas' interlocking runs. 

[For the Record, 2:09 p.m. Oct. 18, 2012: An earlier version of this post said that Neil Young's  new album, “Psychedelic Pill,” was coming out Tuesday instead of Oct. 30.

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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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