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Thomas Hasson , June 19th, 2013 06:31

Tom Hasson celebrates Neil Young's desire to confound the expected at London's 02 Arena

In his 2012 autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young writes about his work on Lincvolt, a project that involves re-powering a huge car (a 1959 Lincoln convertible) to make it more energy efficient.

He says that he chose to do it with a big, "muscle car" because by being dramatic people will begin to imagine what could be done with similar technology in a small car. Even if people doubt his ability to achieve his goal, Young says that he "is succeeding because people are talking about how they would do it better."

But when he’s not working on ethanol-based fuels or messing around with his gigantic train set, Neil Young plays music with Crazy Horse. He states in his autobiography that his on again off again three piece band are his “window to the cosmic world where the muse lives and breathes.”

Tonight, at the O2 Arena in London, that muse has convinced Neil to dress his roadies like scientists in white coats as they run around the stage preparing it all for Neil, Billy, Ralph and Frank. And then on the band come with ‘A Day In The Life’ playing at a wild volume, fading out and then into a recording (and not the Americana version) of the British national anthem for which each band and crew member holds their hand on their heart.

With no other greeting extended to the audience, Neil Young & Crazy Horse pick up their instruments and open the show with a twenty minute ‘Love And Only Love’. And despite having one of London’s biggest stages to play on, the group stick close together; Billy Talbot’s ear turned to Ralph Molina’s drums, both guitarists either side, only occasionally breaking away from one another to sing into the audience-facing microphones.

‘Walk Like A Giant’, the closing track on 2012’s double album Psychedelic Pill, clocks in at just over 16 minutes on record but tonight is extended to nearly half an hour, culminating in a 10 minute feedback freakout that ends with a crack of thunder and rain pouring across the screens either side of the stage with a recording from Live Rust, the band’s 1979 live album, playing out over the speakers; “No Rain! No Rain! No Rain!” Diehard fans throughout the audience are practically squealing with glee, everyone else is a bit confused.

Crazy Horse take a rest around this half way point to let Young do a short acoustic set, playing ‘Red Sun’, ‘Comes A Time’, and Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’. But back they come to play through another track from their latest album, a Buffalo Springfield song, and three more instant crowd-pleasers back to back; ‘Cinnamon Girl’, the call and response favourite ‘Fuckin’ Up’, and an astounding ‘My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)’. As the feedback rang out the band leave the stage.

After a short amount of theatrics involving the ‘scientists’, Neil Young & Crazy Horse return for a three track encore that lasts nearly half an hour. Once they are done, Young speaks to the crowd before embracing his bandmates and bowing for the audience; “Frankly, tonight sometimes we sucked. But with what we do, sometimes that happens.”

On the way out of the arena one audience member can be overheard moaning to his partner that he was “shocked” that the band didn’t play ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. “That’s not the way to treat your fans,” he mutters, before shuffling into the queue for the tube.

Possibly anticipating this sort of reaction from his audience, Young wrote in Waging Heavy Peace that “Today my past is a huge thing. Everybody has an expectation of what I should do. There comes a time when these things start to get in one’s way. Expectations can block the light. They can shadow the future, making it more difficult to be free-flowing and creative. I need to find that freedom again today if I want to fly.”

On tonight’s evidence, not only has Neil Young found that freedom again, he "is succeeding because people are talking about how they would do it better."

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