Neil Young, The Drones @ The Plenary, Melbourne (13/3/2013)

Contrary to what you’ve read, Neil Young is still at the Plenary, jamming on an old Re-ac-tor obscurity with the long-suffering Crazy Horse – Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro – by his side.

At times it felt this show would never end. After a relentless trilogy of guitar noise that’d even put the Swans to shame – ‘Ramada Inn’ from last year’s Psychedelic Pill, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ from 1970’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and ‘Cortez The Killer’ from 1975’s Zuma – Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s first Melbourne show became something of an endurance test. Just when you thought he’d end it, two hours after he’d started it, on the 15-minute mainstay ‘Cortez’, Young played two Zuma rarities, before upping the tempo for a 30-minute bracket of anti-establishment punk noise that made the nexus between Crazy Horse and opening act, Melbourne’s The Drones, crystal clear.

The Drones themselves were in blistering form. Just as Young never pandered to nostalgia or took requests, they refused to tone things down for an older, and somewhat unfamiliar crowd. The murderous stabs that closed out the ‘Minotaur’ were as ferocious as ever; they brought ‘I Don’t Ever Want To Change’ to a brutal close; while they continue to make Kev Carmody’s harrowing ‘River Of Tears’ their own. During ‘Shark Fin Blues’, I imagined Young side of stage, content in the knowledge that the Crazy Horse legacy would endure. The Drones are their true custodians, both in spirit and in their contempt for stringed instruments.

There was a real disconnect in the crowd, however – between those still clinging onto their copies of Harvest and After The Goldrush, and the diehards who actually read the part on the ticket that said “Crazy Horse”. Neil Young was in no mood for a Gold 104.3-endorsed trip down memory lane. He’s not Elton John. He doesn’t do medleys. When someone in the crowd shouted out for ‘Old Man’ he gave them the 16-minute ‘Ramada Inn’.

“Neil Young was in no mood for a Gold 104.3-endorsed trip down memory lane.”

Even when he emerged with an acoustic guitar and harmonica for ‘Heart Of Gold’, it wasn’t about inciting a crowd sing-along. It was about telling a story, his own story, and it segued perfectly into ‘Twisted Road’, his love letter to Dylan and Roy. Young continued it a cappella as he walked over to the piano for an unreleased track, ‘Singer Without A Song’. A young female singer emerged with a guitar case, looking lost and confused, before exiting side of stage without explanation. And that wasn’t even the most beguiling moment of the set. Scientists in white lab coats and workmen in high-vis vests would haphazardly appear (a nod, perhaps, to the hooded Jawas in the concert film Rust Never Sleeps) and an ornate pipe organ was wheeled out for hometown ode ‘Ontario’, but never played. Old concert snippets were interspersed with realtime footage in the five minutes of feedback that followed ‘Walk Like A Giant’, and a huge Woodstock flag folded down from above the stage – not to stir feelings of warm nostalgia – but to make the Baby Boomers in the crowd “think about how close we came”.

The jams were uncompromising and unrelenting, invariably centred on Young’s trusty Gibson Goldtop “Old Black” and a huge pedal board that did all manner of heinously loud things. Young would often pull Poncho (resplendent in a sleeveless Hendrix t-shirt) and Talbot in close as the intensity built, removing himself from the huddle just to step on a pedal or sing. But it all became a bit too much when ‘Sedan Delivery’ closed out the set after yet another jam that threatened to go on for eternity. They returned for an encore, Young’s trademark ‘Like A Hurricane’, but by then I was long gone. Broken, bruised and defeated by a 67-year-old man.


Love and Only Love


Born in Ontario

Walk Like a Giant

Hole in the Sky

Heart of Gold

Twisted Road

Singer Without a Song

Ramada Inn

Cinnamon Girl

Cortez the Killer


Barstool Blues

Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Opera Star

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)

Sedan Delivery


Like a Hurricane