LIVE: Neil Young & Crazy Horse / Patti Smith Group @ Bell Centre, 11/23/12

Neil Young @ The Bell Centre, Montreal, 11/23/12 (photo by Martin Benjamin)
Neil Young

Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin

With doors opening at 6:30pm, and a scheduled 7:30pm show time, it was a nice surprise to see musicians take the stage early – at about 7:20pm – at Montreal’s Bell Centre. Neil Young had added a third (previously unannounced) act – or an act to open for Patti Smith. And Toronto’s the Sadies were fine in their role, but everybody was really there anticipating Patti and Neil.

Patti Smith was at a definite disadvantage for her set. Neil had four huge – and I mean really huge – faux shipping cases positioned across the stage. The Patti Smith Group had to set up and perform in front of those, so their space on stage was limited. Two retro-looking large screen TV monitors were hung up high on each side of the stage, but they were dark for Patti’s set. Patti played much from her great new album Banga, with other nuggets mixed in. Unfortunately, she did not command the large room like Neil & Crazy Horse eventually would.

Her most dynamic stuff came across as tame. She moved youthfully and gracefully between vocals, but it was a sweeter and less compelling Patti than decades ago when she played the Palace Theatre in Albany (1978), when at one point during instrumental solos, she stood spreading her legs, and pissed on stage through her jeans, leaving a puddle at her feet for everyone to see. Her wildest stage move tonight was to take off her gold boots while performing “Dancing Barefoot.” This certainly was a warmer and mellower Patti… not that there is anything wrong with that.

Old-seeming guys in white lab coats came on stage to set up Crazy Horse’s equipment. The lab-coated road crew directed the lifting by overhead cables of the oversized faux speaker cases to reveal huge retro custom fender amps – two lesser-sized, but still very large ones, and two gigantic ones. A giant microphone and stand (with yellow ribbon tied around hanging loosely from it) was lowered horizontally from the ceiling to the stage and placed upright.

If you were at the RPI Fieldhouse Crazy Horse show on February 9, 1991, you might remember the same huge microphone and blowing yellow ribbon in spotlight being the only thing on stage before the start of that show. Neil started up that show acoustically – strumming the opening guitar lines and singing the first verse of Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” off-stage as he slowing came stalking out onto the stage, his personal way to respond to the first Iraq war that was just 23 days old. The deployment of U.S. ground forces in the Middle East was imminent. Was this the same yellow ribbon still tied to the same giant mic all these years later? I think so, and certainly intended to mark the 21+ years that the U.S. has waged the longest period of life during wartime in our history.

What followed was the appearance of a huge Canadian flag with its red maple leaf over the stage and Neil starting up with magnificent chunky guitar notes from Ragged Glory’s “Natural Anthem” leading into the Canadian national anthem. It was the beginning of a very special sonic trip for the next two hours.

Crazy Horse then launched into “Love And Only Love” as their opener. “Love and only love will endure, Hate is everything you think it is, Love and only love will break it down.” Playing fiercely throughout the show, Crazy Horse absolutely filled the Bell Centre with magnificent fuzz, distortion and feedback for 11,400 fans. “Powderfinger” was as potent as it ever was, followed by the new “Born in Ontario,” which even residents of Quebec Province cheered enthusiastically. The new “Walk Like A Giant” was transformed into a tour de force live for over 20 minutes, ending with bombastic sounds only a giant could make along with thunder and lightning and an effective special-effects lighting portrayal of a hard rain.

After all that marvelous noise came a mini-set offering of three acoustic numbers – “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Twisted Road” and “Singer Without a Song” (performed by Neil on an old beat-up-looking piano).

The new “Ramada Inn” seemed to be the right moment to get up, stretch, walk around, get a beer and use the john song. For me it was an opportunity to go around the entire outer upper corridor to the opposite side, and then down low and up closer to a couple of inexplicably empty seats for better picture-taking. And better it was, as it became visually riveting to be that close to these guys making all this noise. Next was a revved-up “Cinnamon Girl,” followed by a rowdy and bombastic “Fuckin’ Up,” which had Neil smiling broadly throughout most of it while guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro took over screaming lyrics like “you’re a fuck up” to “fuck me up” to “we’re all fuck ups” for minutes at the end of this 14-minute presentation. Sampedro was quite a force during the set, alternately pogoing and smiling throughout, wearing a t-shirted portrait of Jimi Hendrix.

Then Neil started to play “Satisfaction” by the Stones. But not to be, it was just the instrumental lead-in to “Mr. Soul,” which appeared again between choruses. The barn-burner of the evening, if you had to pick one, was a ferocious “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black),” but it is hard to pick that over “Powderfinger,” “Walk Like a Giant,” “Fuckin’ Up” or “Mr. Soul.”

After the set ended, and some shenanigans on stage by the lab-coated roadies that enticed more cheering, Crazy Horse returned to do “Roll Another Number” as their only encore. Those large retro looking TVs on each side of the stage showed different points of view via electronic rear view projection, keeping even that close-up aspect of the performance feeling more analog than digital. Altogether, Crazy Horse performed 13 songs in little over two hours – so you know that were a few dozen other songs, of each to their own choosing, that everyone in that room wanted to hear as well. This might be as close to seeing/hearing anything like Ragged Glory again, so if you love that side of Neil (with Crazy Horse, of course), you might want to get somewhere to see this tour now.

Review at The Montreal Gazette

Love and Only Love
Born In Ontario
Walk Like a Giant
The Needle and the Damage Done
Twisted Road
Singer Without a Song
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
F–kin’ Up
Mr. Soul
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Roll Another Number

The Patti Smith Group, Montreal-2012 (photo by Martin Benjamin)
The Patti Smith Group
Neil Young, Montreal-2012 (photo by Martin Benjamin)
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Neil Young, Montreal-2012 (photo by Martin Benjamin)
Neil Young
Neil Young, Montreal-2012 (photo by Martin Benjamin)
Neil Young & Crazy Horse

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