Rock and roll hath no fury like the sound of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
“I might pick up a pen, scribble on a page / Try to make sense of my inner rage,” the enduring 67 year old guitarist and songwriter sang in “I’m From Ontario” early on in a hellacious 13 song two hour-plus show that went on ringing in satisfied customers ears long after they exited the Wells Fargo Center.
With his longtime cohorts Crazy Horse – the primeval trio of guitarist Frank “Pancho” Sampedro, drummer Ralph Molina and bass player Billy Talbot with whom he released both the covers album Americana and double-disc of originals Psychedelic Pill this year - Young lets his inner rage roar through a maelstrom of unapologetically unkempt guitar noise.
Following a fabulous opening set by Philadelphia- and South Jersey-bred punk-poet eminence Patti Smith and a two-part intro in which white lab coat-wearing roadies assembled oversized Rust Never Sleeps-style stage props while The Beatles’ “A Day In the life” and “The Star Spangled Banner” played, Young revved up the Horse.
Young - who will return to play a Hurricane Sandy benefit at the Borgata in Atlantic City with Crazy Horse next Thursday - works the road regularly, and as one of the most fiercely in-the-moment performers that rock has ever produced, he rarely disappoints. (Nor do his sneering, scowling, really-getting-into-it facial expressions: Neil Young gives good face.) But of all the various configurations with which he presents his musings on innocence, mortality and the perils and possibilities of the hippie dream, his outings with Crazy Horse occupy a special place.
To say that the music made by Young and Crazy Horse, with whom he has worked sporadically since 1969, is unhurried would be an understatement. “Love and Only Love,” the set opener that puts faith in positivity despite the odds (“Hate is everything you think it is,” Young reminded us, in a keening, high pitched voice), clocked in at 12 minutes.
But that rumbler from 1990’s Ragged Glory was practically over before it started in comparison to the epic renditions of Pill’s “Walk Like A Giant” and “Ramada Inn,” and the closing feedback fest of “Like A Hurricane,” which included interludes of experimental fuzz that would have made Philadelphia avant-garde jazz man Sun Ra proud.
Also stretched out most effectively was “F!#*in Up,“ Young‘s celebration of self-defeating behavior that evolved into a strange almost-funk call and response session with Sampedro, the white-haired rhythm player with whom the band leader often huddled at center stage as if they were cranking up their amps and exploring improvisational ideas at a garage rehearsal rather than before an arena full of ardent baby boomer fans.
Everything wasn’t epic in length: The show included a solo acoustic interlude of “The Needle And The Damage Done,” and Pill’s nostalgic “Twisted Road” plus a lovely unrecorded lament called “Singer Without A Song” in which Young played piano and, in a bit of playful characteristic weirdness, the band members were joined onstage by a silent young woman who carried a guitar case but never opened it. (She was the singer without a song!)
The only mildly disappointment was that Young and Smith didn’t sing together, considering she recorded “After the Gold Rush” on her overlooked 2012 album Banga. That lost opportunity was mitigated by Smith's gorgeous version of Young’s “It’s a Dream” while backed by a full band that included her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye.
Early on, Smith played “Dancin’ Barefoot,” and by the end of an electric set which also included a rousing “People Have The Power” complete with a profane tribute to the city were the Constitution of the United States was written, she was. Her raucous, unrestrained rip through “Land” and “Gloria” from her 1975 album Horses was a cathartic ending that would have left a performer of lesser caliber than Young shaking in fear at the prospect of following her.