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Neil Young still walks like a giant

October 9, 2012 - Andy Gray
On the surface, Neil Young’s concert Monday at the Wolstein Center could be mistaken for an exercise in nostalgia.

He’s touring with Crazy Horse, the closest thing to a constant in a wide-ranging career approaching 50 years (starting with a single recorded with his high school band The Squires).

He even dragged out the oversized microphone and Fender speaker covers from the “Rust Never Sleeps” tour 35 years ago as stage props (however, instead of "Star Wars" Jawas, the roadies were dressed like lab technicians this time). The yellow ribbon still was tied around the giant mic stand from when he used it on a Crazy Horse tour in 1991 during the first Iraq war.

But Young proves one can move forward while looking back.

Five of the 11 songs in the main set Monday are from an upcoming album, “Psychedelic Pill,” due later this month.

The best and the one that sets the tone for the show is “Walk Like a Giant.” With lyrics like, “I used to walk like a giant on the land/Now I feel like a leaf floating in a stream …Me and some of my friends/We were going to change the world … And it fell apart/And it breaks my heart/to see how close we came,” the song clearly is commenting on the lost idealism of the ‘60s.

But as Young, guitar player Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina roared through the song, Young also was raging against the expectations for a 66-year-old artist. He’s not going to be a nostalgia act; he’s not going to fade away.

“Walk Like a Giant” clocked in at 21 minutes, and the last 7 featured the band essentially playing the same note as they stomped like giants, or dinosaurs, on the stage. Talbot pummeled the bottom string on his bass with his thumb and Molina’s bass drum rumbled mightily as Sampedro and Young filled the arena with a roar of feedback, still trying after all these years to coax a new sound out of those old instruments.

Fitting for a show on Columbus Day, Young still is searching for a new whirl.

“Walk Like a Giant” was the moment when those who showed up hoping to hear “Heart of Gold” realized that their night wasn’t going to go as planned.

There were some old favorites – “Powderfinger,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Hey Hey My My,” “Mr. Soul” – and some Crazy Horse staples like “Love and Only Love” and “F$@!in’ Up.” And Young did break out the acoustic guitar for “The Needle and the Damage Done” and the new song “Twisted Road.”

There have been times over the years when it looked like Young wanted to take a whip to the Horse, but he appeared to be having a great time Monday. Young and Sampedro were kicking each other in the behind during “F$@!in’ Up” or threatening to impale Talbot on the necks on their guitars. When Molina missed the ending of one song and played a couple extra beats, he was greeted with a smile from Young, not the steely glare I’ve seen in the past.

“Twisted Road” is a laid-back charmer, and the new songs fit easily in Young’s canon. They aren’t a radical departure from the sound most folks associate with him. A couple might even get some airplay on more adventurous rock and adult alternative radio stations if they were a little shorter, a little more manageable.

But “manageable” never has been an adjective to describe Young. And, a month before his 67th birthday, it certainly doesn’t apply now.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform tonight (Oct. 9) at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Los Lobos and Infantree open the show.


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