Neil Young at the Live at the Marquee, Cork last Thursday. Picture: Miki Barlok

Neil Young & Crazy Horse in The Marquee, Cork, on July 7th 2014

It’s a little over a year now since Neil Young & Crazy Horse played the most divisive gig of 2013. While that outdoor set at the RDS got the goat of the vast majority of attendees, it displayed a band at the top of their game, creating dense walls of guitar noise and feedback with nary a thought for the expectations of those who bayed for something recognisable amidst the glorious clamour.

This time around it’s a far cry from the sunshine and showgrounds of Dublin, with tonight’s set taking place in the dark, dimpled and cavernous environs of Cork’s Marquee.

The crowd have been steadily trickling in during The Riptide Movement’s set, but it isn’t until the aptly titled Warming Up The Band that their support slot seems suited to the headliner. “Since it’s a Neil Young concert we’ll have to get the harmonica out” says the guitarist before leading into the ‘70s jam rock stylings of a song that coincides with an influx of punters, no doubt pulled in by the ‘classic’ sound.

Shake Shake takes a more bluesy turn with the band letting the crowd sing the title line before All Works Out brings things back to the generic radio-friendly sounds that began the set. It’s another formulaic you-sing-this-part for the crowd; thankfully for all involved they’re up for it, with the “Woah-oh” refrain carrying through the audience before the inevitable race for the prize finale.

A cheer goes up as a curtain twitches onstage, but it’s just one of those false alarms that manifest themselves when there’s an undeniable air of anticipation in a room. The illumination of the Crazy Horse logo on the backdrop is the real deal, though, as Young, guitarist Frank Sampedro and stand-in bassist Rick Rosas gather in huddle centre stage.

Original Horse Billy Talbot recently suffered a mild stroke, and so Rosas, who has played with Young in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, is ably taking his place on this tour. As with that RDS gig, Crazy Horse form a tight-knit unit onstage; not to the same extent they did with Talbot in the fold, but Rosas’ previous tenure with Young means that the bond holds firm, even if it seems there is a reticence on his part to fully engage in the two guitar slingers’ love-in.

It’s a casual Young that greets us on this occasion, all in black with backwards baseball cap, as the band open with a lengthy instrumental intro to Love And Only Love. Tonight’s show is bolstered by two female backing singers, adding a soulful and oft-times gospel feel to the set. Their tones provide depth and dimension to Goin’ Home, and admittedly it is their vocal layers that carry an otherwise pedestrian Separate Ways.

The set takes a turn from its up-until-now guitar duelling form to a more crowd-friendly beast with After The Gold Rush, causing bouts of mild ecstasy from more than one aficionado in the tent. The singalongs begin in earnest with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, and the band leave Young onstage alone for a barebones rendition of Blowin’ In The Wind and Red Sun. Heart Of Gold is met raucously, and as Powderfinger follows it pulls the set seamlessly back into the lengthy guitar jams that it started out with, crowd now firmly behind the band thanks to these warmly embraced chestnuts.

Young scrapes his plectrum down the strings as he waits for Rosas to ready his bass for Rockin’ In The Free World, and he and Sampedro back up against one another over those opening chords. The rhythm section take over along with the audience’s handclaps, and the guitars wail in once more with an extra verse chastising “the fossil fuel man.” And damned if it isn’t a lengthy, rockin’ version, as the song breaks back in out of nowhere for one more tent-vibrating chorus.

Tonight’s show is brought to you by water…and the colour green” Young jovially informs us early in the set before Days That Used To Be. It’s a precursor to his pre-encore preaching of Who’s Gonna Stand Up And Save The Earth?, a song with an undeniable strut that carries a conservationist message that’s as subtle as a hurl to the crotch.

While Young puts his green agenda across onstage, in the crowd there is a protest of a different hue, with certain folks holding up A4 sheets reading “Don’t Play Apartheid Israel” in reference to Young’s upcoming gig there. Largely, their protests go as unheeded as Young’s, with both paper and plastic cups littering the grounds despite the efforts of both parties.

The encore is somewhat of a pleasant surprise considering the appeasing miscellany Young has gone for thus far. There’s no Hey Hey, My My, no Like A Hurricane, no Cortez The Killer; instead it’s Roll Another Number’s country amble, with Young blowing a kiss to his backing singers before the night comes to a close.

Tonight’s set stands in contrast to Young’s previous appearance on these lands. Musically, the RDS seemed a truer representation of what this band want to achieve in a live setting, pushing the boundaries of where a song should go and expectations be damned.

Here, it’s a more benevolent selection – intentionally or not after the last bout of post-RDS moaning – with a happy medium between the popular image of the man and the dense freak-out asides of Crazy Horse. Rest assured, complaints about this show will be few and far between.