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 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 on Thursday night.
With his longtime cohorts Crazy Horse - the primeval trio of guitarist Frank "Pancho" Sampedro, drummer Ralph Molina, and bass player Billy Talbot, with whom Young 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.
Philadelphia and South Jersey-bred punk-poet eminence Patti Smith played a fabulous opening set. A two-part intro followed, in which white lab coat-wearing roadies assembled oversized Rust Never Sleeps-style stage props as the Beatles' "A Day in the life" played and the band stood at attention for the national anthem. Then, Young revved up the Horse.
Young, who will return to play a Hurricane Sandy benefit at the Borgata in Atlantic City with Crazy Horse on 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 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.
It would be an understatement to say that the music made by Young and Crazy Horse, with whom he has worked sporadically since 1969, is unhurried. "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 with the epic renditions of Pill's "Walk Like a Giant" and "Ramada Inn," and the closing feedback fest of "Like a Hurricane," in which Young repeated the words safer place over and over like a mantra.
Also stretched most effectively was "F!#*in Up," the celebration of self-defeating behavior that evolved into a strange, almost-funk call and response 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 exchanging improvisational ideas at a garage rehearsal.
Not everything was 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 characteristic weirdness, a silent young woman carried a guitar case around on stage but never opened it.
The only disappointment was that Young and Smith didn't sing together, which they might have been expected to do since 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," which she did with her full band, including longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye.
Early on, Smith played "Dancin' Barefoot." And by the end of an electric set that also included a rousing "People Have the Power," with a profane tribute to the city were the Constitution of the United States was written, she was doing just that, shoeless during a raucous, unrestrained rip through "Land" and "Gloria" from her 1975 album, Horses.
It was a cathartic finish to a performance that would have left a performer of lesser caliber than Young shaking in fear at the prospect of following her.
Contact Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @delucadan. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at www.philly.com/inthemix