Music review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse, O2, London


Neil Young may be his own harshest critic. "At times tonight, frankly, we sucked," he says at the end of another marathon show with Crazy Horse, his on-off backing band for over four decades. "But with what we do, that's always a possibility."

He's not wrong, and that's what makes what they do so viscerally thrilling, in a way that few other performers would even attempt. This isn't Neil Young the folksy troubadour: when he plugs in with Crazy Horse, everything goes up to eleven - as signalled by the cartoonishly huge fake speaker cabinets that comprise the stage set, from which correspondingly absurd giant flight-cases are winched immediately prior to the band's appearance. And when the sound goes up to eleven, it fizzes and crackles with barely-controlled distortion, notes fracturing and splintering off, tugging the melody to the brink of recognisability as Neil and his chums lollop around the stage, heads nodding with the groove. 

Sometimes they go beyond the point of no return: on "Walk Like A Giant", a song about counter-culture values that closes his last album Psychedelic Pill, the almost subterranean fuzz distortion Young wrings from his Les Paul is the musical equivalent of tectonic plates shifting. It heralds a ten-minute musique concrete sequence of abstract guitar and vocal noise, during which waste paper is blown across the stage, a visual analogue of the sonic wasteland conjured by Crazy Horse. No other band of their stature would take this risk, preferring instead to stick close to the comforts of carefully-calculated, computerised climaxes. Which is what makes each Young show so special: although he plays a fair number of crowd-pleasers, from "Cinnamon Girl" to "Powderfinger", "Like A Hurricane" to "Hey Hey, My My", they're always subtly different each time, the band teasing out new wrinkles from each song. 

Other highlights come from all corners of Neil's catalogue, as far back as Buffalo Springfield for "Mr Soul", to new songs like the touching co-dependency anthem "Ramada Inn", another of Psychedelic Pill's ruminations upon the values of age and love. And one of the most enjoyable sections comes during "Fuckin' Up", when he and guitarist Poncho Sampedro engage in a two-handed verbal duel that expands into a good-natured audience confrontation, the crowd chanting "You're a fuck-up!" back at the grizzled duo - though it's more in acclaim than accusation. It's a moment befitting rock's most stubborn old coot, just about the only heritage act with attitude intact.