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Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Hyde Park, London, 12th July 2014

Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the last gang in town. Throughout Young’s labyrinthine career, sprawling as it does across six decades and with all of its inherent creative ups and down, the one constant in his musical life has been Crazy Horse. First saddled up in 1969 with the mercurial, minimalist masterpiece that is Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and despite long periods in the interim when Young has put them out to pasture, this is the band to which he always returns.

And once more they have re-convened. Though this evening on stage as part of the British Summer Time series of shows in Hyde Park, Young and drummer Ralph Molina are the only unbroken connection with that album – Frank “Poncho” Sampedro147a having joined Crazy Horse in 1975 after the dismissal because of, and death shortly thereafter from drugs of original guitarist Danny Whitten, and Rick Rosas from Young’s regular touring band deputising for the temporarily stricken bass guitarist Billy Talbot – this is still unquestionably Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

Perverse and as uncompromising as ever, Neil Young opens with not one but two of those epic, extended guitar workouts of his – ‘Love And Only Love’ and ‘Goin’ Home’ – quickly slipping into that familiar groove of ceaseless soloing in and out of, and over and above the largely unrefined, but consistently sympathetic three-piece engine room that is Crazy Horse.

The chugging country rock of ‘Days That Used To Be’ and an amiable yet ill-considered reworking of ‘After The Goldrush’ – robbing the original of much of its helpless vulnerability – 191apave the way for not only the third of Young’s grand guitar gallops of the night, but also the third track to be culled from the 1990 triumph that is Ragged Glory. ‘Love To Burn’ smoulders and burns, occasionally flickering into flame, as Young steers a course across a high wire between repetition and endless possibility.

Yet as wilfully unrelenting as he can be, Young still has the capacity to surprise. He then embarks on a sequence of songs immersed in reflective nostalgia, beautiful reminders that there is always far much more to this 68 year old Ontarian than just great expanses of meandering guitar.

‘Separate Ways’ – originally recorded at the 1975 sessions for Homegrown, an album that would never see the clear light of day – is as totally unexpected as it is most welcome, the two backing singers Dorene Carter and YaDonna West adding a glorious gospel tinge to the song’s plaintive melody. And as if to affirm his enduring vitality, Young adds the lines “I’m feeling better now, a lot more alive now”, before coaxing a stunning, wonderfully understated solo out of Old Black.

‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’, an unerringly true cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The 160Wind’ and a joyous ‘Heart Of Gold’ could easily be seen as crowd-pleasers, sops to an audience perhaps not familiar with standard Neil Young and Crazy Horse guitar jam territory. But here they are all genuinely heart-warming readings of timeless classics.

Equally unanticipated is ‘Barstool Blues’. Taken from Zuma, the 1975 album which had first welcomed Frank Sampedro into the world of Crazy Horse, it defies age and categorization with its raw, thrilling momentum and the rippling passion of its sound. Young reins in the Horse on both ‘Psychedelic Pill’ and the indefatigable ‘Cinnamon Girl’ as if preparing the beast for the coruscating finale that lies ahead.

‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ is realised here as a genuine call-to-arms, its message reverberating 206aall around Westminster whilst new song ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up And Save The Earth?’ is similarly driven by Young’s strong social conscience and unrelenting support of the environment. Yet it is the second and final encore of ‘Down By The River’ – first unveiled to the world on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – that best captures the spirit, solidarity and longevity of Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

For the last time this evening Young, Sampedro and Rosas form an impenetrable triangle in front of Molina’s drum kit. Together they bob and weave in union to the song’s relentless rhythm as Young contorts lick after lick of barely controlled aggression from his guitar, something only matched by the sheer fury with which he spits out the song’s refrain. “Down by the river, I shot my baby, down by the river, dead, oh, shot her dead” he sings with such fierce conviction you do begin to wonder if he is actually confessing to some long unsolved crime.

On the stroke of ten o’clock the four men take their final curtain call. Wreathed in smiles and triumph their arms around each other’s shoulders, Neil Young and Crazy Horse confirm their place as the last gang in town.

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.