Neil Young: Echo Arena, Liverpool

Neil Young performing at The LIverpool Echo Arena

Neil Young performing at The LIverpool Echo Arena

Well worth the wait,  Getintothis‘ Jamie Bowman heralds in Neil Young’s  long awaited return to Liverpool after 40 years.

The Watergate scandal was dominating the headlines the last time Neil Young played Liverpool, back in 1973 and while President Nixon – the villain of Young classic Ohio – may be long gone, Neil is still very much with us and – judging by tonight’s wonderful performance – as powerfully contrary as ever.
Backed by the grizzled remnants of Crazy Horse in the guise of guitarist Frank Sampedro and Ralph Molina, Young and his band have almost 300 years between them and look as old as the statuesque Red Indian totem who stands stage left as they launch into the 12 minute sludge fest Love and Only Love from 1990’s Ragged Glory.

It’s a delight if you’re one of the many who were introduced to Young when he became the flannel shirt wearing godfather of grunge back in the early nineties, probably less so if you’re one of the more sensitive types who prefer Young cast in the acoustic troubadour role which made him the darling of Laurel Canyon.

But this is a Crazy Horse gig and what we get is a thrilling, stubborn and at times brilliantly cranky set which manages to show both sides of Young’s character and which confirms his status as one of the few of his generation to remain a genuinely interesting voice.

Tonight’s opener is followed by the similarly styled Goin’ Home which repeats Young’s crunching template to the letter with squalling leads tumbling from the 69-year-old’s Les Paul and the kind of juggernaut backing from Crazy Horse that so entranced the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana 25 years ago.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse performing at The LIverpool Echo Arena

Neil Young and Crazy Horse performing at The LIverpool Echo Arena

To the casual fan, the endless soloing and lack of between song banter may be a patience tester so early in a show but to the long-time ‘Shakey’ fans this is Young at his best and for those unsure he is soon unleashing a sublime After The Goldrush which provokes the first true ovation of the night.

The mood lifts even higher when Young is handed an acoustic guitar and proceeds to play a raggedly faithful version of Bob Dylan’s  Blowing in the Wind (although surely a Harvest or Needle and the Damage Done could have been appropriated?) before a rousing and powerful Heart of Gold sees the harmonica blowing Young in breath taking form on one of the era’s most beautiful anthems.

The gig begins to draw to a climax with a double shot of Don’t Cry No Tears and Barstool Blues from 1975’s Zuma followed by the stomping garage rock of Psychedelic Pill, the title track from 2012’s blistering return to form.

Rockin’ In The Free World somehow manages to sound cliché free and defiantly sneering despite it being accompanied by the sight of thousands of middle aged fists being punched in the air but it’s the closing Like A Hurricane which really resonates and leaves the kind of indelible image that makes this gig stick in the memory.

As a huge organ suspends from the ceiling, Young sends solo after solo soaring into the cavernous arena for quarter of an hour before he sets about shredding his guitar’s strings with the rabid intensity of a man happier to burn out than fade away.

Pictures by GetintothisDave Munn