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Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the RDS, Dublin on 15th June 2013

As the crowds filed out from the RDS after a lengthy set from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, it was clear from the comments on the night and in the following days that this gig would stand out as one of the most divisive of the year.

Young has always been a notorious contrarian so it should have come as no surprise, considering the billing, that tonight’s trip wasn’t likely to be a ‘just the hits’ karaoke session. Over thirteen numbers Crazy Horse dragged the crowd kicking and screaming – some for Young’s blood – through a fantastically leaden and dense, guitar-heavy journey that toyed with momentum and patience alike.

They certainly shunted the crowd out of any malaise that may have set in during the day’s earlier proceedings, where the sun fought a largely victorious battle with the more inclement weather and folk milled and chilled in front of the three support acts. Dublin’s Little Green Cars are first to bat and  it’s clear they have no problem inhabiting a stage this size.

They’ve garnered a nice crowd stagefront, while a few folk dot the stands at this early juncture. After My Love Took Me Down To The River their singer announces “If this doesn’t impress my girlfriend’s parents I don’t know what will.”  They go out on The John Wayne, starting with a mid-tempo drum stomp before kicking things up a notch – said parents were, we imagine, suitably impressed.

An ominous black cloud has not gone unnoticed by the crowd, but LA’s Los Lobos manage to chase it off with some cowbell and the upbeat country rock of Will The Wolf Survive. It’s goodtime stuff from the quintet, even if the drummer seems more into it than anyone else in the entire venue. A cover of Johnny Thunders’ Alone In The Crowd is suitably followed by the straight-up rock’n’roll of Georgia Slop. Lead singer David Hidalgo dons an accordion for Let’s Say Goodnight, and a sax appears in the keyboard players hands – you better believe he’s not afraid to use it.

A tune starts up, then abruptly stops – “something blew up” explains Hidalgo – but the crowd give a good-humoured cheer when the electrics are brought back in line. A couple of Spanish language tunes follow, one replete with the inevitable drum solo that Louis Peréz has been threatening for the whole set. Of course, La Bamba is the expected closer, and the band manage to play a mercifully cheese-less version, slowed down and more in the style of The Steve Miller Band than the original. They get a singalong going towards the end of an enjoyable set – the sun is out, the crowd good-natured and the players even more relaxed than the folk lounging on the pitch (nary an eyebrow was raised when the amps packed in).

The crowd has swelled significantly by the time The Waterboys take to the stage, with everyone joining in on the ‘woo-hoo-hoo’ of Fisherman’s Blues as the fiddle player spins around on the stage. Mike Scott sits at the piano for A Girl Called Johnny. He has a few words about the weather gods as rain begins to spit, but it seems The Waterboys have angered them somehow, as it only gets heavier as the set progresses. Raincoats go on, hoods go up, but most stick it out regardless despite the mini exodus to the shelter of the bar.

Scott begins The Whole Of The Moon alone, a flat version it has to be said, although the crowd try their best. It isn’t until the western style intro of Don’t Bang The Drum starts to swirl around that the set gets interesting, as if the band sense they are losing the crowd and step up their game. A lengthy instrumental jam ends in feedback before they build it up again, faster and faster to a crescendo, an effective and impressive end to a less than impressive gig. Magically, a rainbow forms a halo over the stage during this last hurrah, a final concession from the weather gods that rained on The Waterboys’ parade.

Mercifully for us, and no doubt to the chagrin of Scott & Co the rain has abated, as Young’s crew peel off the large clear plastic sheeting that has been protecting the stacked amps. Overhead some form of winged, tie-dyed and tassled creature hangs suspended from the stage, moving with the breeze and later the music, a rustic counterpoint to the elongated, brightly coloured flags that catch the wind at the rear of the RDS.

The sun is at our necks and the sky overhead blue as Young appears, all in black; and he, guitarist Frank Sampedro and bassist Billy Talbot face each other in a circle to begin Love & Only Love. It’s straight in with a squalling guitar jam as the players feed off each other; it’s almost as if the crowd aren’t even here, and the players play for one another. They break from their tryst for Powderfinger, with all three taking a vocal, and again on Psychedelic Pill, with Talbot turning to Ralph Molina behind the kit.

When Young comes stage front, all it takes is a glance cast in a single direction to elicit a response from the crowd. Walk Like A Giant is the one that shakes things up – it’s a savage, relentless version that just keeps on going, with layer upon layer of guitar, moving things up a level with each section. The thunderous ending is drawn out to an interminable length, with each crashing doom chord signalled by a foot stamp from Young. The band speed it up and slow it down in improvisational fashion, with Young straight up to his amp eliciting feedback. All three do the same, creating a grinding, metallic and industrial noise, and the frustration from sections of the crowd is palpable. Eventually, Young simply snaps off his guitar, and follower Hole In The Sky just seems slight in comparison to what we have just witnessed.

As if sensing the crowd turning, an acoustic is donned for Comes A Time and Blowin’ In The Wind – a mass singalong – before the band return for an extended Ramada Inn, with Young stalking the stage. The light show adds a new dimension as dusk begins to fall, and Fuckin’ Up (“a little song we picked up from Peter, Paul & Mary”) sees the ranks close once again as the band form a tight-knit circle for the instrumental passage.

They’re into it, backing into each other – it’s primal stuff – until the music cuts out and lets the three men sing it alone. “All you people are too cool…can’t say ‘just a fucker’” drawls Sampedro after his sardonic earlier statement that this is “the greatest rock’n’roll crowd we ever played to in all time.” More dense guitar drones and erratic drum fills lead into a heavy-starting Hey Hey My My, and one final wig-out ending.

It’s raining again as they return for a fine Cortez The Killer, rounding of a set that frustrated many. This was a band on top form, though, and despite a few moments of self-indulgence, for the most part it was a glorious noise. There seemed to be a division in the crowd between those expecting Neil Young and those expecting Crazy Horse – those expecting the latter left happy.

When the band hit those peaks, it was as visceral an experience as you could have at a gig. Maybe it wasn’t the greatest rock’n’roll crowd they’ve ever played too, but Crazy Horse nonetheless wrenched sounds from their machines with chops most musicians would kill for. If only the sound in the RDS could have done them justice.

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Photos: Michelle Geraghty