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Theatrics Trample Neil Young's Crazy Horse

Neil Young and Crazy Horse / Lucinda Williams
Marcus Amphitheater
Milwaukee, WI
June 19, 2003
Neil Young
Young gets down.

Story by Tony Bonyata
Photos by Phil Bonyata

It was supposed to be a 'musical novel.' But when Neil Young's latest project Greendale unfolded onstage last Thursday evening it turned out to be more of a self-indulgent, homespun rock opera than that of a novel.
Running through the yet-to-be-released album in it's nearly two-hour entirety, Neil Young took his audience on a journey to the fictional American small town of Greendale, where global, political and sociological issues weighed heavy on its simple townsfolk. Through the use of film, extravagant props and live actors, the overdone theatrics also, unfortunately, weighed heavy on the new music - often beautifully telling music that, without the invading visuals and over-dramatized acting, would have told the same story without seeming contrived and forced.
Lucind Williams Thankfully, however, Young had brought his longtime partners in crime Crazy Horse, featuring guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, along for the Sunday drive through this small, yet complex town. Even though Sampedro's role during the set was behind a keyboard instead of his guitar, it was the band's direct, unencumbered approach to much of the new material that kept it from sinking under a sea of flashy color, DIY video screen illustrations and over-zealous actors mouthing along with Young's lyrics. The theatrics were so heavy-handed, in fact, they often stole the thunder, from not only Crazy Horse, but from Young' s compositions as well; compositions that ranged from gutbucket blues with a strip tease flair to an enduring stripped-down acoustic number.
While none of this new material had yet to be heard from his audience, the ones that didn't leave Greendale and the Marcus Amphitheater early that night, sat patiently waiting for some of the thunderous material that they've come to know from Young and Crazy Horse. And thankfully, after the video screens had dimmed and the actors took their final bows, it happened. The musical alchemy of these four musicians was at full-force as they stormed and raged through old warhorses such as "Like A Hurricane" and "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)." Finally arriving at these gems after leaving Greendale, was like an alcoholic after a stint in a dry county and then swinging the saloon doors open to Happy Hour.
With his whiney yet powerful vocal delivery and scathing electric guitar (a noisy, raw style that has influenced younger grunge and garage rockers alike) Young proved to be a force to be reckoned within the world of rock, while his noticeably aging and physically out of shape band, were as musically fit and downright menacing as any band that springs to mind. Hopefully, when Neil and company come to town next time, they'll leave the excess thespian baggage behind and let us revisit Greendale via the strength of their music.
Opening for Young was singer / songwriter / guitarist Lucinda Williams, who along with her earthy three-piece rock band, delivered a rousing, honest set of favorites including "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," "Drunken Angel," "Righteously" and the ballsy rocker "Joy." With an unencumbered set, filled with stinging leads, scrappy rhythms, sumptuous vocals and songs drenched in the sweat of the American South, this was a gal who showed her host Neil Young that sometimes less can definitely be more.

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