CONCERT REVIEW: Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, May 7, 2024

‘A euphoric journey’

Neil Young 5.7.24 2 Edit
Photo credit: JON HARRIS
THERE COMES A TIME: Neil Young and Crazy Horse bunched together.

I have been restored and redeemed!

I saw Neil Young Tuesday night at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre (or Verizon or whatever it’s called this year) and he did not disappoint. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him 6 or 7 times when I wasn’t on the road myself, and it’s always deeply moving and inspiring. This time, however, it felt like he had something more to prove than usual. It felt like he wanted to share some kind of enlightenment that only a 78-year old may have gathered over a life well lived, or perhaps his agenda was to prove he could still rock with abandon like he always has and deliver us from corporate evil. After all, he is still preaching his gospel of love and environmental sustainability, things that are somewhat antithetical to the mega corporations of today.

I watched in amazement as he poured through his 50+ year catalog with as much energy, sweat, and grit as I had seen him have 30 years ago. I stood stunned in amazement, literally slack jawed with my hands on my face, as he opened with a 15 minute version of “Cortez The Killer,” a dirge with guitar growls of epic octave proportions. His faded 1953 Gibson Les Paul guitar kicked and whined with feed back as if he were wrestling a wild horse into submission, daring it to fight back. Neil drove that guitar into submission, jerking the whammy bar and then caressing the strings with his hands like a guitar whisperer. Who would ever doubt that he would win the battle? Suffice it to say, he has won the war, as well, still giving the finger to the establishment whenever necessary. There were no dancing girls or aerialists, no pyro, not even any video screens for the folks on the lawn. There was a stage filled with 20 foot Fender amp stage props from his Rust Never Sleeps tour (1978), and a perfectly loose band bunched together center stage who seemed able able to read each other’s minds and take the audience on a euphoric journey through Neil’s foggy trippy world and career.

Throughout the 90 minute show the audience was both assailed and fortified with Neil’s raw tenacity and his damn the torpedo’s attitude. We got on board his pirate ship whole-heartedly and collectively — there was an actual pirate flag flying from Ralph Molina’s drum kit. We generously yelled, clapped, whistled, laughed, and even cried out of pure unbridled joy. In fact, one of my favorite moments of the show was when Neil donned his weathered Martin acoustic guitar and harmonica, and played a mini acoustic set. He stood alone on stage, plodding awkwardly around and sang songs we’ve loved for 50+ years including “Comes A Time,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Human Highway.” When he truncated “Human Highway,” ending it earlier than the recorded version, the audience kept singing thunderously so. It was then that Neil started playing the rest of the song. I got a big lump in my throat and a huge grin on my face. It was one of those concert moments you remember forever, one of the reasons we go to shows in the first place — to feel a part of something, to feel connected to others who you may not even know. It was rock and roll church. It was religious, and I was transported back to summer camp in Dahlonega at Camp Glisson where I first heard a counselor strumming “Needle and The Damage Done.” It stopped the 11 year old me in my tracks, and in that moment I knew I had to get serious about playing my guitar and learn to write songs that might possibly stop others in their tracks.

Crazy Horse was also in rare and perfectly imperfect form, and still sounding youthfully rebellious, maybe in part due to the addition of Micah Nelson on rhythm guitar who seemed as comfortable sparring on guitar with Neil as long time Crazy horse members bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina did. Micah is Willie’s son, so we know he’s got the talent and none of the BS just like the rest of Crazy Horse. It must be a refreshing shot in the arm for all the guys to play with someone half their age who obviously loves what they are and have been doing longer than Micah’s been alive, and what a great gig for him! Yeah, I would jump at that gig. Yeah, for a moment I dreamed of what that would be like.

The thing that makes Neil Young truly special, one of the all-time greats, isn’t necessarily his beautiful and sometimes clunky lyrics, his memorable melodies, his elementary chord changes, or even his bombastically unique guitar prowess. It’s the authentic simplicity that so obviously come straight from his heart. As an audience member, we instinctually feel the honesty of his music, something that has somewhat been illusive in pop culture and society for decades.That honesty, combined with all the other aforementioned elements, is what makes Neil Young one of the most important artists of the rock and roll era and even the 21st century. He refuses to sell out and continues to keep it real in a time when we have all but forgotten what real is anymore. He doesn’t know how to do it any other way, and I am so grateful for that. —CL—
Michelle Malone is an Atlanta-based musician who has been walking the tightrope between acoustic and electric music for over 30 years. She performs Friday, May 10, at Eddie Owen Presents at Red Clay Music Foundry, 3116 Main Street, Duluth, GA, 30096. (678) 892-6373. Doors 7:00 p.m.$35-39. Malone will be joined by Canyonland. The Krickets open.

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