Friday Night: Neil Young & Crazy Horse at Outside Lands Festival
The following is a dispatch from San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival from our VVM Bay Area sister paper, SF Weekly. -- ed.
While he's putting everything into a solo, Neil Young's face looks like his electric guitar sounds: Flush with feeling, vaguely threatening, and thoroughly aged. Not old as in frail, but venerable; geologic.
Photos by Christopher Victorio Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Outside Lands festival.
On the chilly, windy opening night of San Francisco's Outside Lands festival, Young the legend and his old group of noisemakers treated the sold-out crowd to a demonstration of rock as dinosaur music: Gray hair and ancient, howling amplifiers, unapologetic nostalgia, 15-minute jams, the singer's OG nasal twang spooning out at times a bit too much lyrical honesty to keep the buzz going. (Even if they then built it back up.)
It was the exact opposite of today's byte-sized, hyper-compressed, we'll-do-anything-to-hold-your-attention music culture. And it was great -- occasionally.
Most bands giving a headlining performance at a major festival would keep their set list to the greatest-hits side of things. Or perhaps play a bunch of songs off the record they just released. Not Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
These guys spent nearly half of their two hours Friday trying out new tunes from their upcoming album -- songs no one except Young obsessives have heard yet. "Ontario" and "Walk Like a Giant" both sounded like classic, dirty Crazy Horse dirges, but our favorite was the new acoustic song about hearing Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" for the first time. There wasn't a single selection from the album of Americana covers Young and Crazy Horse put out this year.
Young never apologized for the set list, but he did obliquely quip about its newness: After a long, bleak new tune about alcoholism, he said, "I wrote this one this morning" -- just before launching into "Cinnamon Girl." You could feel a collective sigh of relief from the shivering masses.
"Fuckin' Up" brought a familiar, reckless joy, and Young trading middle fingers and sumo-dancing in sync with Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, his longtime guitarist. All four musicians spent the show close to one another, often maintaining eye contact, which contributed to the feeling that the performance was more for benefit of the guys onstage than the tens of thousands watching.