Neil Young and Crazy Horse rolled into Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena (a.k.a. the Arena at Harbor Yard) like a freight train last night for the second to last date of a tour that began in early October, and as such they were in well-rehearsed, top form. Young’s voice sounded as good as you would hope for it to sound — delicate and shaky, emotive, yet hard-hitting when it needed to be. And his pitch was right on throughout. He’s 67, but he still sounds like Neil fucking Young, and we got chills when that voice pushed out “Cinnamon Girl” just as effectively as it did in 1969. Crazy Horse is Young’s most out-there, feedback-friendly, jammy, slop-rock band, and he utilized its psychedelic abilities to their maximum potential with plenty of extended stoner jams and stomp box freakouts.
But first things first.
Patti Smith provided direct support, and when she unexpectedly hit the stage at 8 p.m. the room was only about a quarter full. (The band Everest played before Smith, but we were still parking when they played.) Smith’s set was a slow build, but by her last three songs (“People Have the Power,” “Land,” and “Babelogue / Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger”) the energy change in the room was palpable. In like a lamb, out like a lion. She took command of the still-settling-in crowd, grabbing us by the balls and reminding us why she’s a headliner in her own right, dedicating songs to her mother, who was born in Bridgeport, to Neil Young and to her brother, on the anniversary of his death.
Kelly Jensen Photography
The transition to Young’s set was quick and entertaining, as stagehands dressed in lab coats and construction worker outfits lifted the familiar Rust Never Sleeps era giant prop amp cases off the giant prop fender amps (which provided housing for the real amps) and set up the giant prop microphone center stage. The band and the stagehands then lined up and put their hands to the hearts for a recorded rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” with a giant American flag providing the backdrop.
The flag then fell to the floor and the Horse kicked into “Love and Only Love” with several minutes of jamming before the vocals kicked in, Horse members huddled in a tight circle, riffing off each other. Tasty-smelling smoke mysteriously appeared all around the general admission floor area. We all got into the same zone collectively, and there was nothing at all nostalgic about it. Yet. It felt very current and modern despite the fact that the band looks like any of your dad’s anonymous blue collar friends might look.
The next song was “Powderfinger,” and at this point the sonic time machine transported us back to 1979. And it sounded so freakin’ good. Arenas generally don’t have the best live sound, but the Horse’s screaming amps gelled into a cohesive chunk of sound that was inarguably abrasive yet always pleasing to the ear. There’s good noise and bad noise, and the balance was right where you want it to be between the two.
New songs “Born in Ontario” and “Walk Like a Giant” were next, off the group’s month-old release Psychedelic Pill, and they did not disappoint, fitting in nice and cozy with the established repertoire. These were followed by a solo, acoustic Neil rendition of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” which gave our ears a break and let us see another side of Neil Young’s many faces.
A handful of new songs later, Young pick-scraped his way back in time, listing off the songs and albums that marked milestones on the way back, including “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,” Harvest and Everybody’s Rockin’, before settling on the Everybody Knows It’s Nowhere era and launching into the dirty-ass version of “Cinnamon Girl” I mentioned earlier. If anyone’s attention had lapsed at this point (mine had not) they were quickly reeled back in.
Kelly Jensen Photography
When Young reached into the hole in his giant prop amp to adjust the knobs on his real amp, a camera mounted inside projected his adjustments onto the giant screens on the sides of the stage. Those who paid attention to the screens were rewarded throughout the show with occasional interesting and not-always-live things spliced in, but it was difficult to watch a screen when the real deal was dancing around just a few yards away, writhing on the floor with his guitar.
“Fuckin’ Up,” “Mr. Soul,” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” closed out the set in classic confrontational Crazy Horse fashion with a single song encore of “Roll Another Number” from the drunken, late-night-recorded Tonight’s the Night (my personal favorite Neil Young record).
Webster Bank Arena proved to be an exceptional venue for a real deal rock ‘n’ roll show, and those that took the train were rewarded for their planning with no parking costs, no traffic and a short walk back to the station. The vibe in the general admission section was congenial and not over-crowded, and despite housing several thousand fans, it felt intimate.
Here’s the setlist recap:
Love and Only Love
Born in Ontario