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There are fans, and there are fans. And then, there are the Arkansas Girls.

Or, perhaps more appropriately (and to quote their now famous sign), there are the “Arkansas Girls Who (HEART) Crazy Horse.”

For anyone who followed Neil Young & Crazy Horse during last fall’s Alchemy Tour as it made its way across North America, you might have even seen the Arkansas Girls (a.k.a. Sandy and Tami) at one or more of the shows.

They followed the tour through a number of cities, hitting shows at Red Rocks in Colorado, as well as Tulsa (where, unfortunately, they also hit upon a short stretch of bad luck) and Seattle (where we were quite pleased to have met and hung out with the AK Gals ourselves).

But for those of you didn’t make any of those shows, the Arkansas Girls exploits on the Twisted Road of Alchemy, have long since become well documented within the more tight-knit circles of the Neil Young fan community.

Sites like Thrashers Wheat as well as the Rusties facebook group have both reported on some of the Arkansas Girls more memorable road stories. But the one common factor that followed the Arkansas Girls everywhere they went was that sign. You simply couldn’t miss it.

Neils AR Girls Collage

For the Arkansas Girls, the fairytale ending to their 2012 Crazy Horse story, finally came during the Alchemy tour stop in Fairfax, VA. That night, the Arkansas Girls were rewarded with a rare acknowledgment from the Patriot Center stage by Neil Young himself (see video below):

So what does all that have to do with this weekend?

This coming Saturday Night, Feb. 2, Thrasher’s Wheat Radio on WBKM.org will feature an exclusive interview with the same, now forever infamous Arkansas Girls.

For those not already in the know, Thrashers Wheat Radio is already considered required listening for serious Rusties anyway. Hosted by the same Neil Young fanatic who produces what is arguably the best resource for Neil Young news on the web (the great Thrashers Wheat website), the ubiquitously named “Thrasher” also penned the forward for our Neil Young FAQ book last year.

But this Saturday’s show promises to be even better than usual, when Sandy and Tami share their remarkable roadtrip tale of attending multiple Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert’s last fall.

Don’t miss the Arkansas Girls this Saturday February 2 at 9P EST on Thrasher’s Wheat Radio on WBKM.org.

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(Photo Montage Credit: thanks to Ralf Böllhoff at Rusted Moon)

After surviving the Mayan apocalypse (or maybe not), we thought it only appropriate for our final blog entry of the year, to look back on what has been an extraordinary year for Neil Young.

As usual, our good friends at Thrasher’s Wheat managed to beat us to the punch — posting up their own yearend Neil Young recap earlier today. Perhaps they put it best too. Because if nothing else, 2012 will certainly be remembered by Neil Young fans as the latest, if most eagerly anticipated “Year Of The Horse” ever.

But there was much more about 2012 that made it arguably Neil Young’s busiest, most highly productive and visible creative period in years, if not decades.

Fans were alerted that 2012 was going to be something else entirely early on this year, when the 37 minute jam “Horse Back” with Crazy Horse was posted on Neil’s website.

This signaled to the world that 2012 would indeed be “The Year Of The Horse” and that Neil was once again ready to make that big rusty noise that is really only possible with one band. As the song made clear, the Horse was back.

This was followed by not one, but two new albums with Crazy Horse:

The first of these, an album of traditional folk standards given the more cranked-up Crazy Horse treatment dubbed Americana, was received warmly by fans in June, but also drew mixed reviews from critics. However, a fall tour with Crazy Horse, accompanied by a second new album, the two-disc opus Psychedelic Pill quickly erased any doubts that the Horse had lost any of its original “spook.”

The album itself combined epic jams like “Ramada Inn,” “Walk Like A Giant” and the 27 minute tour de’ force “Driftin’ Back,” with some of the most abstract, yet introspective and personal songwriting of Neil Young’s career (particularly on the latter song).

Taken together with the Neil Young Journeys film with Jonathan Demme and his own autobiographical book Waging Heavy Peace — and especially the way that each of these projects found Neil Young seeming to put his house in order and come to terms with his own place as both an artist and a human being — a convincing case could be made for the three pieces forming a more complete whole of their own.

Call it the “mortality trilogy.”

Speaking of books, the personal highlight of our year was of course the publication of our own Neil Young FAQ.

A labor of love which took this author two years to write, edit and get published (by Backbeat Books), the book was thankfully received warmly by Neil’s fans (thank you, Rusties). It also became a journey for us of rediscovering Neil Young’s artistry and legacy.

We made a lot of new friends along the way, and also received invaluable help from some of our old ones (thanks in particular go to Thrasher for his wonderfully poignant forward).

(Remember…It’s still not too late for Christmas, and Neil Young FAQ makes an excellent last minute gift for that Neil Young fan on your list).

One of our biggest 2012 highlights though, was Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s blistering performance as part of the Alchemy tour at Seattle’s Key Arena on November 10, 2012.

As we wrote in our original review:

These guys may be getting up there a bit in years, but you wouldn’t have known it on this night. This was like being shot through a time capsule back to the days of Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. At this show Neil Young & Crazy Horse played like a bunch of twenty-something kids.

As rock shows go, this was one for the ages.

It was an amazing, unforgettable performance.

Of course, there was other stuff we liked this year too. This included great new albums by some of our other old favorites like Bob Dylan (Tempest), Jack White (Blunderbuss), Bruce Springsteen (Wrecking Ball) and Patti Smith (Banga).

We also had the chance to see Springsteen twice on the Wrecking Ball tour (in L.A. at the beginning of the tour, and in Portland towards the end). Much like Neil, you have to wonder where a guy like Springsteen continues to get his energy. Both the shows we saw were three hour plus blowouts, which even saw the Boss stage-diving in Portland.

In any other year, 2012 would have belonged completely to Springsteen.

But between the Crazy Horse reunion; two new albums (one of them a double disc); a book (not to mention our own); and the third film in the Demme trilogy, 2012 was nothing less than Apocalypse Neil.

And it doesn’t look like there will be any slowing down in 2013.

If all goes according to plan, we could see The Pono, Neil Young’s revolutionary new digital music delivery system become available commercially as early as summer.

The Crazy Horse tour has also been extended to Europe, Australia and beyond, and rumors continue to persist that a second Archives volume could be in stores by fall.

We can’t wait. See you next year!

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It took us awhile, but we finally finished reading Neil Young’s epic autobiographical book Waging Heavy Peace. And, as you might expect, we have a few thoughts about it. We now know that Neil Young’s favorite new band is the Pistol Annies for one thing.

But the two main things that struck us most about the book, were Neil Young’s easy, matter-of-fact writing style and just how surprisingly forthright he is with regard to his own self-assessment — both as an artist and as a human being.

Neil Young seems to have become much more aware of his own mortality in recent years, perhaps owing to his recent brush with fate after a brain aneurism a few years back, or maybe because of his own genetic predisposition to health issues ranging from polio and epilepsy, to Alzheimers (which killed his father).

In any event, much of what Neil writes about in Waging Heavy Peace seems to be part of a recent, but nonetheless ongoing effort to get his house in order.

It is a work that is, by his own admission, very much still in progress. He expresses grief over losses (Danny Whitten, Ben Keith, Larry “L.A.” Johnson); as well as some regret over how he has handled relationships — from family and friends, to those he has worked with over the years — often while pursuing his own self-interested obsession with “chasing the muse.”

When judged by rock star standards, Neil Young has historically been very private, and particularly protective when it comes to his personal life. Yet, in Waging Heavy Peace, Neil talks more openly about these things than he ever has before. Which makes this book even more fascinating, especially for the diehard fan. The fact that he does so in such a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all manner often makes for a reading experience that is more like a peek into Neil Young’s personal diary.

Written in the same non-chronological, random style that one might find more suited to such a personal journal, Waging Heavy Peace jumps around from topic to topic quite a bit. With each new chapter, Neil just talks about whatever is on his mind at the time.

Reading this book almost feels like you are sitting down, across a table from Young himself, and having a relaxed and casual, but very personal conversation with a longtime friend. Much of the credit for that has to go to Neil Young’s very breezy, but engaging writing style. For a first timer, Neil Young really does nail it. His journalist father would be very proud.

A few other things that really stick out in our minds after reading Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace:

1.) Neil Young really is an “idea guy”

…And when he is particularly passionate about one of these “ideas,” he sees it through with the same stubborn determination that has also marked his pursuit of “the muse” artistically.

In the same way that Neil has often forged and followed certain musical paths regardless of their seeming lack of “commercial appeal,” he has refused to allow any perceived financial road blocks to get in the way of his various “side interests” — from Lionel Trains and the Linc-Volt, to his most recent obsession, the Pono.

Many artists — particularly those of Neil Young’s generation — have been quite loud in voicing their disdain about today’s digital music delivery systems, and how it has affected everything from sound quality to the future viability of the album format itself.

Neil Young makes it clear in Waging Heavy Peace that he isn’t happy about the crappy sound of MP3s either.

But rather than simply pining away for the “good old days,” he wisely recognizes that where you can’t necessarily beat the advances of technology, you can join it in the hopes of making things better. To that end, Neil has put both his energy and his money behind the Pono, a device which he boldly claims restores the same sound of an original performance that is mostly lost on current digital formats and devices.

2.) Do we detect a “trilogy” theme here?

This gets back to our original point about how it seems that Neil Young, perhaps recognizing that the clock is ticking, seems to be making peace with himself these days. With both this book, as well as the recent Neil Young Journeys film with Jonathan Demme and the Psychedelic Pill album and tour with Crazy Horse, there seems to be a common thread of both coming to terms with and embracing his past.

In that sense, they really do seem to form three pieces of yet another Neil Young trilogy.

Perhaps the most obvious connection can be found in the lines of Psychedelic Pill’s longest song (and the longest of Neil Young’s career), the epic 27 minute opus “Driftin’ Back”:

“Dream about the ways things are now, write about them in my book, worry that you can’t hear me now, or feel the time I took.”

But you also get the sense of Neil Young’s rearview mirror self-appraisal in Demme’s Journeys documentary, a film that spends as much time revisiting Neil Young’s childhood past in Canada, as it does with the Massey Hall concert footage from the Twisted Road/Le Noise solo tour.

The three projects, though wildly different in terms of style, really do seem to have a common, shared connection.

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Concert Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse At Key Arena, Seattle WA 11/10/12

It’s not often that you leave a rock and roll concert feeling completely exhausted and spent, at least not these days. It is also not the feeling you’d normally associate with seeing a bunch of old geezers like Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

When it comes to older, vintage acts from the classic rock era – at least the ones that still matter – you might expect to walk away from a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show feeling this same sort of giddy, exhilarated post-concert exhaustion. Which is exactly why I continue to go see their shows, even going so far as to travel cross-country to witness them.

But Neil Young? Not even.

Yet, there Neil Young and the venerable Crazy Horse were this past Saturday night at Seattle’s Key Arena – looking and sounding as revved-up, fully engaged, and vital as they ever have in the dozens of times I have seen them over the years.

These guys may be getting up there a bit in years, but you wouldn’t have known it on this night. This was like being shot through a time capsule back to the days of Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory. At this show Neil Young & Crazy Horse played like a bunch of twenty-something kids.

As rock shows go, this was one for the ages.

My feet ache like all hell from standing in the GA section all night (I’m also old enough to remember when they used to call this barbaric viewing arrangement “festival seating”). But damn if it doesn’t hurt so good. As I write this, I am left both physically and emotionally spent. But I am also feeling that special sort of post-concert euphoria that comes only after you know you have just witnessed something that qualifies as truly great.

From the incendiary – and loud! – fifteen minute plus opener “Love And Only Love,” Neil Young & Crazy Horse came out with their guns fully loaded and blazing. From there, they delivered the goods and then some for over two hours.

Drummer Ralph Molina did miss a few spots here and there, particularly on the longer, extended jams. Still, this made for a much rawer take on “Fuckin’ Up,” which started out sounding something like the Black Sabbath version of the song. Neil, Poncho and the rest of Crazy Horse locked into the slightly more downbeat groove like clockwork in no time though, making for one of the better versions of this concert standout that I have ever heard.

The concert was also long – and in this case, we mean that quite literally – on new material from the just released Psychedelic Pill album. But the overall theme was more like a snapshot into Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s gloried past, with one eye locked onto their future. It’s no coincidence that this tour is being labeled as “The Past. The Present. The Future.”

Echoes of such past Crazy Horse tours as the legendary Rust Never Sleeps and Ragged Glory/Weld treks were front and center from the minute you entered the arena. You saw it in everything from the over-sized microphone and Fender amp props from past tours, to the goofy looking stage hands running around in their white doctors coats. There was no mistaking the trippy retro vibe here.

But this was no mere nostalgia trip down hippie lane. Far from it. Even as Neil Young & Crazy Horse acknowledged the past, they seemed to be equally intent on getting back to the future Saturday night at the Key.

On the extended jams from the new Psychedelic Pill album like “Ramada Inn” and especially “Walk Like A Giant,” Neil shredded his ass off. Old Black got quite the workout at this show. Poncho Sampedro, and even usually stoic bassist Billy Talbot (who cracked a rare grin during “Fuckin’ Up”) seemed to be having a pretty great time on the newer songs as well.

The older, crowd pleasing songs were there too of course, including scorching versions of “Powderfinger,” and a nice closing twofer of “Mr. Soul” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black).” The encore of “Tonight’s The Night,” was also one of the bluesier takes on this particular concert warhorse that I’ve ever heard.

Occasional lapses in technique aside – which of course is one of this bands most endearing qualities anyway – Neil Young & Crazy Horse have never sounded better than they did this past Saturday night at the Key. Long may they continue to run.

Setlist:
Love And Only Love
Powderfinger
Born In Ontario
Walk Like A Giant
The Needle And The Damage Done
Twisted Road
Singer Without A Song
Ramada Inn
Cinnamon Girl
Fuckin’ Up
Mr. Soul
Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)

Encore:
Tonight’s The Night

*Review first published at Blogcritics Magazine.

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Better late than never.

Last month, we posted up all of the videos available up until that time from Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s new Psychedelic Pill album. Since then, Neil has released several new clips from the album (including one for his longest officially released song ever, the amazing 27-minute album opener “Driftin’ Back”).

Good gawd, we love this one.

So, we have to admit to a certain laxness in updating this site of late. But now, in the interest of bringing our viewers up to date, we present the rest of the Psychedelic Pill videos, along with some of our quick, initial thoughts.

Ramada Inn (New Version):

The video for this one was already pretty great, and the song — all seventeen minutes of it — is of course, amazing. On this newly updated video, they seem to stick with the overall story arc of the original, but the video itself has been cleaned up quite a bit.

The driving sequences shift nicely from black and white to color, and the overall feel of the video matches up with the song itself much more nicely too (at least, as viewed through our own decidedly “rusted” eyes):

Psychedelic Pill:

We LOVE this song.

And with its strong echoes of “Cinnamon Girl,” one could almost view this as a sequel to that classic. But as the man himself once famously said, “it’s all the same song” anyway.

The way that this video uses vintage footage from what one would assume is the silent picture era, is sure to remind fans of the videos from this year’s earlier Americana album. But just when you are thinking (probably too hard, as we did), the drugs — and their accomapanying psychedelic kaleidoscope images — start to kick in:

Born In Ontario::

Another stark black and white video (with occasional, possibly rare autobiographically based color clips), that not surprisingly, celebrates all things Canadian.

For The Love Of Man:

Like the song itself, the video for “For The Love Of Man” stands somewhat apart from the rest of Psychedelic Pill (although the kaleidoscopic motif makes a reappearance here).

It’s a gorgeous song nonetheless. But one is still left wondering if this particular song wouldn’t have been better suited for a Harvest Moon like project, than for the otherwise psychedelic, Crazy Horse blowout that is Psychedelic Pill:

Driftin’ Back:

The 27 minute opening track of Psychedelic Pill is not only the longest officially released song of Neil Young’s career, but also our hands-on favorite track from the album.

On the video, we especially like the vintage live footage at the beginning. But there is so much more to this song than the extended guitar passages which bookend the lyrics (not that these wouldn’t have been enough to qualify “Driftin’ Back” as the late breaking Neil Young classic we firmly believe that it is).

On this song, Neil’s words play less like traditional song lyrics, and more like the writer’s own abstract thoughts placed randomly within it. It makes even more sense if you read Neil’s book Waging Heavy Peace, which this song plays as a distinct musical counter-piece to.

Absolutely brilliant.

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Music Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Psychedelic Pill – Neil Young’s second album since reuniting with Crazy Horse earlier this year – is his most eagerly anticipated new recording in years, if not decades. The reasons for this are, of course, obvious. It’s a new recording of original material from Neil Young & Crazy Horse already.

The good news is that this is also Neil Young’s best album – Crazy Horse or otherwise – in a good long while.

One of the things that makes Neil Young, well, “Neil Young,” is the way that he has steadfastly – some would say stubbornly – followed his artistic muse over the course of his long and legendary career. But it has also just as often as not, alienated bandmates (including those in Crazy Horse); frustrated fans; and at one point, even caused his own label to sue him for failing to make “Neil Young” records.

The thing is, Neil Young always manages to find his way back, even following these long periods of what at least appears to be artistic flux. He last did it with Freedom in 1989, a “comeback” record made following nearly ten years of often confusing, confounding genre experimentation.

At the time it was released, Freedom shocked a lot of people. This was the unexpected, but completely natural and organic sounding followup to 1979’s classic Rust Never Sleeps, that he probably could have made at any point during those so-called years lost in the wilderness in the ’80s. But for whatever reasons (and who knows what goes on in Neil Young’s brain?), he chose not to.

Freedom was followed in short order by a brilliant creative run in the early to mid-’90s, that produced a series of albums (Ragged Glory, Harvest Moon and Sleeps With Angels chief among them), which rivaled (and some would say even surpassed) his best work in the ’70s.

On an initial couple of listens, Psychedelic Pill feels like exactly this type of album.

Not that the last several years haven’t produced some admirable work, because they have. But near-great albums like Le Noise have just as often been book-ended by lesser records like Fork In The Road, or even this year’s earlier Americana collection of folk standards given the cranked-up Crazy Horse treatment. Nothing particularly God-awful terrible there or anything. Just nothing all that memorable in the long run.

But because Neil Young – at least when he is hitting on all four cylinders, and despite all of his hits and misses over the years – has established such a high artistic standard, his fans just as often place equally lofty demands on the man. Taken on that level, Psychedelic Pill delivers the goods and then some.

Of the eight songs on this two-disc collection (nine if you count the alternate mix of the title track), three of them exceed the fifteen minute mark, and one of them, the opening “Driftin’ Back,” clocks in at nearly half an hour. A lot of this material will also sound suspiciously familiar to long time Neil Young fans. So, if the thunderous power chords that open “Psychedelic Pill” remind you more than a little of “The Loner,” just remember that as the man himself once said, “it’s all the same song.”

But what a damn song!

As one might expect, the lengthier songs on this album (“Walk Like A Giant,” “Ramada Inn” and especially “Driftin’ Back”), serve mainly as launchpads for the sort of psychedelic guitar explorations that will delight longtime Neil Young fans. These songs will take them right back to albums like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Zuma and Ragged Glory.

But where the music mirrors the grungey, psychedelic feel of those classics, it does not sound the least bit dated. As much as Psychedelic Pill is every bit the classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse album you’d expect, it also has a very modern feel.

On the opening “Driftin’ Back,” the lyrics are as abstract as the music is hypnotic. When Neil Young references things like “writing in my book, locking all the thoughts out,” or how “I used to dig Picasso, then the big tech giant came along and turned him into wallpaper,” it’s almost as though you were reading scribblings from his diary. The closest comparison lyrically, would be the darker, more personal corners of the “Ditch Trilogy” albums like On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night.

Neil also has some choice words for modern recording technology here (“Don’t want my MP3, when you hear my song now, you only get five per cent”). Lines like these read more like random thoughts than song lyrics – like peaking into someone’s private journal. Neil Young has rarely been this forthright in his songwriting. The oddest thing is that he seems so relaxed and comfortable with it.

This is taken to a borderline ridiculous extreme on “Walk Like A Giant,” where Neil muses about how “he used to walk like a giant on the land” and how “me and some of my friends were gonna’ save the world” before the “weather changed and it fell apart.” As weighty, and as much as this might sound like the confessions of an aging rock legend staring down at the ticking clock of his own mortality, consider that this takes place in between glorious washes of feedback and, of all things, almost cavalier sounding whistling sounds.

The nostalgia trip continues, but lightens up considerably on the much shorter “Twisted Road.” In another time, this would have been a sure-fire hit single for Neil Young. “Twisted Road” has got a hook that is every bit as big as “Cinnamon Girl” or “Mr. Soul.” As is, the song serves as this album’s trademark catchy, slightly dirty rocker – think of it as Psychedelic Pill’s “Fuckin’ Up.”

In the full band arrangement here, fleshed out considerably by Crazy Horse from the acoustic version being played on the current tour, the song’s nostalgic look back to the days of Dylan and the Dead is certain to resonate with the boomer contingent of Neil’s fan base. Either way, it’s just an all-around great song.

Every ten years or so, Neil Young takes a break from chasing the muse every which way it leads, to make that one great, completely effortless sounding album he seems to be able to make at will.

For right now, Psychedelic Pill is that record. Papa’s got a Rolling Stone.

Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine

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Following this weekend’s successful webcast of the annual Bridge School benefit concerts, Neil Young is continuing his very busy — and very interactive — year, by giving fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with him directly today.

As part of Twitter’s #LegendsOnTwitter campaign, fans tweeting Neil at his Twitter page @neilyoung today, will be able to ask him their own direct questions by using the hash tag #AskNeil. According to a press release from Warner Brothers, the artist himself will then answer the fan questions (or, one would assume, at least as many as he can).

From yesterday’s press release:

For the first time, Young will connect directly with his fans through Twitter’s @TwitterMusic handle- all in real time. Twitter is very excited to participate in facilitating Neil’s opportunity to connect with fans across the world.

In other Neil Young news, starting today fans can also stream the upcoming Neil Young & Crazy Horse album Psychedelic Pill (due October 30) in it’s entirety at NeilYoung.com. Neil Young & Crazy Horse also resume their tour on Thursday in Tuscaloosa, AL., before heading to New Orleans and then the Pacific Northwest (where we hope to see some of you in Seattle on November 10).

And if you happen to tweet Neil today (remember the handle @neilyoung and the hashtag #AskNeil), be sure to mention that Neil Young FAQ sent you!

The rest of the remaining tour dates are listed below:

Oct 25 Tuscaloosa, AL Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
Oct 26 New Orleans, LA Voodoo Fest
Nov 10 Seattle, WA Key Arena
Nov 11 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena
Nov 13 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome
Nov 14 Saskatoon, SK Credit Union Centre
Nov 16 Winnipeg, MB MTS Centre
Nov 19 Toronto, ON Air Canada Centre
Nov 20 Kitchener, ON Memorial Auditorium
Nov 23 Montreal, QC Bell Centre
Nov 24 Ottawa, ON Scotiabank Place
Nov 26 Boston, MA TD Garden
Nov 27 New York, NY Madison Square Garden
Nov 29 Philadelphia, PA Wells Fargo Center
Nov 30 Fairfax, VA Patriot Center
Dec 3 Brooklyn, NY Barclays Center
Dec 4 Bridgeport, CT Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard

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