Neil Young @ The SECC
I’m not sure if any artist holds definite claim to having avoided as many expectations as Neil Young and I very much doubt there is. More than anything, the performance displayed at the S.E.C.C. has taught this reviewer more than anything not to presume anything about a gig upon purchase of tickets.
Entering the hall it was clear I was not about to witness the no-frills, stripped back grunge set I was prepared for. The enormous fake storage crates behind the band set-up (which were elevated to reveal giant pretend amplifiers) as well as the giant fake televisions hanging either side of the stage illustrated this much. Never mind the lab-coat- and builder-uniform-clad roadies running around frantically, seemingly performing a mime act in the entire run-up to show time.
After the intro music of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” and a surprising playing of “Flower of Scotland” over the PA system, complete with saltire hanging from the back of the stage, Young and Crazy Horse chugged slowly into Ragged Glory track “Love and Only Love”, which laid the blueprint down for how many of the nights songs were to be performed: long instrumental openings, wandering, guitar-laden interludes and seemingly ceaseless final cadences. The final chord of “Walk Like a Giant” was stretched to at least ten minutes and with each crash, a different image of Neil and the band from decades past flashed across the TVs either side of the stage.
This was just one of the interesting visual elements implemented throughout the night. After the aforementioned song finally ended, an impressive lightning storm effect was displayed across the stage and dialogue from the weather warnings from Woodstock in 1969 were played before a massive banner in tribute to the event was dropped. During unreleased track “Singer Without a Song”, a young girl with a guitar case in hand playing the title role of the song wandered around the stage among the band members looking lost. It seemed to have little consistency with the rest of what was on display but then again, look at who we’re talking about here. Finally, at the end of the encore the giant storage crates were lowered back down to cover the pretend amplifiers occupying the stage. In terms of setlist, picks for the evening stretched far and wide across Young’s career, from tracks off the new release, Psychedelic Pill to more obvious numbers found on Harvest and Rust Never Sleeps.
Of course, the audience seemed most receptive during a short solo acoustic slot where “Heart of Gold” won back any of those lost during the quarter-hour of feedback. Singing into spot mics mounted on his harmonica, Neil was free to wander the stage unconstrained by a mic stand. It made for a really natural performance, wonderful to both look at and listen to. Here it was also clear just how strong his voice still is. Every word was clear and not once did it seem he was losing grip. In fact, the only moments where it seemed the audience were not totally on board were during the aforementioned feedback storm and later during Ragged Glory track “Fuckin’ Up”, where very few seemed willing and ready to join in with the chant of “you’re just a fuck up!”. However the rest of the evening saw a rather hypnotised crowd ready for whatever came on. At the end of the main set, Neil seemed to echo a sentiment shared throughout the entire audience, singing “don’t say it’s over” repeatedly on the last chord of “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” (performed in the style of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) ?!?!?!?!).
The encore brought an emotive end to the night, with touching words spoken before the penultimate song, wishing everyone a save journey home that kids who parents had left at home would have a good night’s sleep. This moment was particularly important for the evening as a whole, reminding anyone unimpressed by what could be described by some as a self-indulgent set of noise and taking the piss that the man in front of them was entirely of sound mind when it came to every detail of what he was doing. This along with the length of time Young and Crazy Horse spent taking in their final applause illustrated how engaged all performers were and how truly grateful they were to everyone in attendance. This reviewer was certainly grateful to be there.