Thursday, May 3, 2018

[REVIEW] I'm Still Living The Dream We Had: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Returns in Fresno

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

Gonna leave the pain behind
Gonna put the fools in line...

Those were the first lyrics Neil Young decided to sing. He hadn't delivered them live in 17 years.

Fitting for me, since I recently left my job of 17 years. Funny how that works out.

"I'm still living the dream we had," Young sang. "For me it's not over."

That's the chorus of "Big Time," the song that began a new journey for Young and Crazy Horse at the Warnors Theatre in Fresno, California. It might last five shows. Or it might last five years. We really don't know, as Young has a few dates booked with his other band, Promise of the Real, later this year.

For these five shows -- three in Fresno and two in Bakersfield -- Crazy Horse represented itself with drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, and guitarist Nils Lofgren, who was an original member of Crazy Horse, and is now filling in for Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, who might rejoin the group at a later date. It might not be the Crazy Horse you remember in recent memory, but consider that Sampedro replaced Danny Whitten in 1975 after Whitten died of a Methaqualone overdose. (My point: it's still Crazy Horse.)

While Lofgren is certainly an exciting addition, and played superbly on songs like "Too Far Gone," "Cinnamon Girl," and "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," my eyes were locked on Talbot most of the evening. Talbot suffered a mild stroke in 2014; he had not played with Young or Crazy Horse since late 2013, and missed a Crazy Horse European tour later in 2014.

And of course on Tuesday, Talbot was thrown back into the burner, playing shows with "no rehearsal" and beginning with a song that we hadn't heard live since 2001. That's the Neil Young and Crazy Horse way: light it up and let it burn. History tells us the flame keeps through the darkest of times.

Talbot was steady throughout the night, although clearly rusty with Young reminding him when to sing on a song or two. Maybe he was lost in the moment. Maybe I should not speculate. He looked gassed by the end of "Like a Hurricane," but to his credit, he gallantly withstood the storm. It was something I had convinced myself I would never see again. But, it happened. And now I believe again.

Midway through the show, Young and Crazy Horse performed "F*!#in' Up," a song from Ragged Glory. Its popularity perhaps stems from the fact that Pearl Jam has covered it, or you could argue that any song with the chorus of "Why do I keep fuckin' up" will gain traction anywhere in this world. However you have found it, the real way to appreciate its glory is to watch it while it's happening in front of you. The song is Crazy Horse's pyrotechnics, lit by raw guitars in a rusted out garage. You don't need to see it. You only need to feel it.

I'll be chasing that feeling the rest of my life. I traveled almost 2,000 miles in a week's notice to find it again. And it was there again during a 14-minute "Cortez the Killer," which slowly danced across the water and finally found land for a thrill that will fuel me for the next few months. At least.

"He came dancing across the water..." Young sang. "Dancing across the water..."

I'm still living the dream we had. For me, it's not over.



Set List

1. Big Time
2. Country Home
3. Don't Cry No Tears
4. Winterlong
5. World On A String
6. Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')
7. F*!#in' Up
8. Too Far Gone
9. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
10. Cinnamon Girl
11. Cortez The Killer
12. Walk On
13. Like A Hurricane
14. Mansion On The Hill
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15. Roll Another Number