All words: Andy Johnson
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
While driving home Friday evening, our photographer and I got in a debate about who kicks more ass: Neil Young or Bob Dylan. I appreciate Young, but I feel this was an unjust comparison. There will never be another Bob Dylan. His influence on not just popular music, but American culture is incalculable.
While Stephanie and I may disagree about Dylan’s legacy as The Best There Ever Was, there is little doubt who the better live act is today. Dylan’s reputation as a performer has been suspect for over a decade. Even die-hards concede the old guy phones in it. I limit my criticism because I have yet to see Dylan live, but considering the harsh reviews of his recent performance at the Verizon Center, I do not have a pressing desire to tarnish my image of such a legendary musician.
Those who chose to skip Bob and save their nickels for Neil Young’s performance at the Patriot Center were well-rewarded. Young, backed with his longtime band Crazy Horse, put on a two-hour performance dripped with snarling feedback, lengthy jam sessions and even a corny discussion about time travel.
Patti Smith, a contemporary of Young, opened. Smith lived up to her title as the Godmother of Punk, playing a brief set of her hits, albeit her safer songs like the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Because The Night” instead of rabble-rousers such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger” or “Privilege (Set Me Free).”
Smith remains a charismatic figure, but her age is showing. Her signature song, “Gloria,” still rips, and her shout out to free Russian punk-instigators Pussy Riot was well-received by the crowd full of fiftysomethings. But her parking meter humpin’ has grown tamer, each “ding-dong” reverberates less. Moreover, I question why Smith was chosen when Neil could have tapped an act whose sound would be better suited to this tour’s acoustics. Smith’s presence seems more suited to clubs than basketball arenas. (I do note she played Baltimore’s Rams Head Live! the following evening, and I bet she was great.)
Young doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d harvest nostalgia. At age 67, he remains prolific having released two albums with Crazy Horse this year. I doubt you will ever see Young succumb to the current industry trend of performing classic albums in their entirety. And yet he chose to replicate the stage setup of his 1978 Rust Never Sleeps tour, complete with cartoonish, oversized Fender guitar amps and a giant, hovering microphone whose sole presence it seemed was to piss off photographers.
After “A Day in the Life” blared throughout the arena, Young and Crazy Horse took the stage and started into “Love and Only Love” from 1990’s Ragged Glory. Much like how punk rock owes a debt to Patti Smith, Young has been referred to as the Godfather of Grunge and his touring with the likes of Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth in the ‘90s left an impression. I’ve listened to Live Rust hundreds of times and I never expected Neil Young and Crazy Horse to sound so heavy.
If you were expecting “Heart of Gold” or “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” you set yourself up for disappointment because this was a jam-focused show. The band played four songs in the show’s first hour, which is understandable as “Walk Like a Giant,” a song off their most recent album Psychedelic Pill, lasted nearly 25 minutes. I’m not sure what statement the band was trying to make by having industrial fans blow trash onto the stage while as they hammered away, but it was awesome to see the four men end “Giant” with a squall of noise that would satisfy the few Jesus & Mary Chain and Wolf Eyes fans in attendance while simultaneously pissing off drunk baby boomers who paid $70 to hear “Southern Man.”
Acoustic renditions of “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Twisted Road” gave our eardrums a respite from the sonic assault, but I don’t know what the hell was going on during the piano-led “Singer Without a Song.” The song is already a clunker; it certainly wasn’t aided by having a random woman twirl around on stage. However, this misstep was forgotten as the band played another new song, a 14- minute version of “Ramada Inn.”
Neil Young introduced “Cinnamon Girl” by slowly working his way up his guitar neck, referring to his past albums and hits in reverse chronological order before stopping his “time machine” on 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. “Cinnamon Girl” remains a bona fide classic as it pushes into its fourth decade, but the evening’s highlight was an incendiary version of “Fuckin’ Up,” where Young cried out over and over again “Why do I keep fucking up?” This was followed by “Cortez The Killer,” which still features its incredible, searing solo that remains par with other ’70 staples, like “Comfortably Numb” or “Stairway To Heaven.”
After a solid cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” the group closed out the evening by segueing into a stretched out rendition of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” its ever-quotable lyrics taking an ironic twist. After seeing this show, I can respect why Stephanie would prefer Young to Dylan. Simply put, he still kicks ass. Both men’s legacies ensure they will never fade away, but only one of them is burning out, and it ain’t Neil Young.