Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Sheffield Arena

Back in the saddle
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The Independent Culture

Neil Young has formed and split many bands in a career that is now in its fifth decade. None of them have been as long-standing or as persistently evoked as Crazy Horse. Originally modelled on the Rolling Stones, they are his Wild West garage band, kings of feedback-fuelled stoner rock and godfathers of grunge. Some would argue that with two live albums of old Horse material in the past four years and the lacklustre solo effort "Silver and Gold", the band ­ bassist Billy Talbot, guitarist Frank Sampedro and drummer Ralph Molina ­ have ceased to stimulate Neil Young's formidable artistry.

But when Young strides on to the stage, big straw cowboy hat obscuring his face, immediately hunkering into a scrum with his compadres, such concern seems ill-founded. "Sedan Delivery" presents the band's patent formula, hell-for-leather stampede matched with anguished guitar breakdowns. There is a hysterical aspect to the Horse ­ they look like psychotic lumberjacks, intent on transforming this massive shed into a backwards roadhouse, their Sampedro harmonies sounding like cartoon character Olive Oyl on helium. But Young ­ droll yet somehow unknowable beneath his hat ­ mines this and every other facet of the band for maximum effect. "Piece of Crap" is a very funny attack on shoddy consumer culture, with Young roaring heroic lines such as: "Went back to the store ­ bought four more ­ but they told me at the door it was a piece of crap."

The restorative "Love and Only Love" from the 1990 land- mark Ragged Glory rang out like an old hippie prayer fed through punk fire with Young wringing lines of rapture from his guitar. The proof that the Horse can still discover new territory came with a song from their forthcoming Studio Album, "When I Hold You in My Arms". It was a lovely, done- deep ballad, Young doubling on guitar and piano with the line "The older generation they got something to say", eliciting a spontaneous round of applause from the aged audience.

When the band left the stage and a roadie strapped on his acoustic guitar and harmonica, Young confessed, not totally convincingly, "I don't really know what I'm doing up here but it's fun." What followed was sheer magic ­ "Pocahontas" drawing both on America's genocidal past and its present dream life; "After the Gold Rush" as callow, fraught and awed as ever. Then the band returned, firing into a snarling sawtooth declaration of faith, "Out of the Blue", and the Civil War requiem "Powderfinger". Another new, unnamed song came before the close, sandwiched between brilliant and blistering versions of "Cinnamon Girl", "Fucking Up" and "Cortez the Killer", rounding off a two-hour plus show.

The Horse never were too pretty, never aspired to much of a musical pedigree, and never made much sense. But their owner understands their uniqueness. Like Willie Nelson's The Family, Crazy Horse are a singular slice of Americana and once they've gone they won't come back. Small wonder Neil saddles them up at every available opportunity.

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