Four scary, monolithic speakers formed the backdrop to Neil Young and Crazy Horse on the stage of the MTS Centre Friday night. Think it might get loud?
Young aficionados had no fear, recognizing them as props from the Rust Never Sleeps tour way back in 1978.
Recycling? Maybe. That’s in keeping with Young’s zeal for ecological issues.
But it’s also in keeping with the interplay of old and new in Young’s performance ethos.
He’s not the guy to rest on his considerable past laurels with a greatest-hits playlist. So after a prologue in which white-coated lab workers unveiled the speakers and erected a giant microphone — and stood for the Canadian national anthem — Young (clad in plaid work shirt), guitarist-vocalist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina took to the stage just after 9 p.m. They launched into a epic 14-minute rendition of Love and Only Love, from 1990, followed quickly by Powderfinger, a beautiful and melancholy tale of violent doings from Rust Never Sleeps.
But he quickly veered to songs from the band’s new double album Psychedelic Pill, starting with Born in Ontario, a jaunty, anthemic look back at his pre-Winnipeg roots, followed by Walk Like a Giant, a meditation of the promise and failure of the counterculture. Both songs serve notice that Young, as a songwriter, is more vital and innovative at age 67 than pretty much all of his peers.
Things got weird at the conclusion of Walk Like a Giant with the band approximating what it would sound like to be repeatedly stepped on by a giant robot.
But just when you were thinking the Psychedelic Pill has kicked in, Young brought it to earth with a solo acoustic rendition of the poignant, powerful The Needle and the Damage Done followed by Twisted Road from the new album, a heartfelt paean to Bob Dylan inspired by the first time he heard Like a Rolling Stone.
Young continued to mix up old and new: Ramada Inn from the new record, Cinnamon Girl, one of his most golden of oldies, earning, not unexpectedly one of the most effusive ovations of the evening.
If the performance of the Top-40-unfriendly F***in’ Up (from 1990’s Ragged Glory) was sustained a little too long, the intense hit Mr. Soul sounded just as angry as when Neil recorded it with Buffalo Springfield back in -- holy cow! -- 1967.
Young’s Hey Hey, My My was a natural finale. Young’s assertion "Rock and Roll will never die" is a fitting end to a rock concert. (He was cajoled to return for a more mellow countrified encore with Roll Another Number.) Given Young’s refusal to stick to the hits and follow his muse, I’m thinking Neil Young will never die either.
The only people disappointed might have been Winnipeggers expecting more than a token acknowledgement of his history here. For a man who has taken to examining his past (especially in the recent doc Neil Young Journeys, an examination of his Ontario roots coupled with a solo Massey Hall concert), Young didn’t seem too eager to look at his Winnipeg roots: Fort Rouge, Kelvin High, The Squires.
Toronto quartet The Sadies started things off with a few twangy, surfy garage rock tunes that set the stage for Young’s driving, multitude-of-influences playlist, concluding with an apropos guest appearance by band buddy Randy Bachman for a surprise rendition of the Guess Who chestnut No Time.
Burton Cummings did not show up to jam with East L.A. rockers Los Lobos, who hit the stage at 8 p.m. It wasn’t like these guys needed anything in the way of added attraction, delivering potent straight-ahead rock.