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Gonzo Report: Neil Young and Crazy Horse delight youngsters at SDSU

Godfather of grunge is pushing 80 but still pulling in the kids

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: neither burning out nor fading away.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse: neither burning out nor fading away.
Video:

GONZO: Neil Young performing "Harvest Moon" at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater on 4/24/2024


I caught a Neil Young show last summer when he performed at the Rady Shell as part of his Coastal tour. That event showcased Young tackling deeper cuts from his expansive catalog in (primarily) solo acoustic mode. I certainly didn’t think I would be seeing him again in San Diego, less than a year later, with his band Crazy Horse backing him at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater. Young has worn many musical hats throughout his career, but Crazy Horse has always served as the raw, hard-rocking bar band whose music solidified his christening as “The Godfather of Grunge” in the early ‘90s. At 78, this godfather is now old enough to be a great-grandfather. And he’s the youngster of the group, as far as the original members go. Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbot (bass) are both 80. For this tour, the trio was joined by a much younger guy, Micah Nelson (33), on guitar. Interesting side note: Micah’s father, Willie (age 92, maybe you’ve heard of him) played the Rady Shell earlier in the same week.

I was up in the cheap seats, as $133 is apparently considered “cheap” for a ticket these days. I got lucky, though, as the father and son duo to my left had shelled out over $200 (each) for resale tickets on StubHub. The pair had traveled down from Rancho Cucamonga to see the show. The 21-year-old son, Austin, told me that his favorite Neil Young album was Rust Never Sleeps. “There’s a small string of songs on that album — I think it’s ‘Sail Away,’ ‘Pocahontas,’ and ‘My My, Hey Hey’ — those are some of his better-known songs. It’s easy listening, and I’ve just always enjoyed it.” This was his first time seeing Young. “I’ve been trying to see him since 2020, and I missed the opportunity last year when he came out to California,” he explained. “I think it will be great. I think it’s the second show of the tour. He’s not going to be burnt out. I like the earlier Crazy Horse era. I’m not super well-versed in his later years, especially the newer stuff, so this is perfect for me.”

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I guess it would be easiest to characterize openers Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir as a sort of gospel revival band that focuses on the evils of consumerism and consumption. It’s an odd act to be watching while you’re drinking an $18 IPA and sitting in a nosebleed seat that, as previously mentioned, wasn’t exactly a bargain. Once they were done, the Love Earth backdrop came down, revealing the legendary Crazy Horse logo, along with the gigantic, oversized fake Fender amplifiers that date back to the 1970s and which can be seen in the Rust Never Sleeps concert film. (The period-correct road crew dressed as Star Wars Jawas would have been an added treat.)

The first song of the evening was the entrancing “Cortez the Killer.” It was the perfect entry-point for this older version of the band to ease into the set, and one which sparked many burners as members of the audience fired up their weed stashes. Next up was another crowd pleaser, “Cinnamon Girl,” which was followed by a string of songs primarily pulled from their 1990 album Ragged Glory. Eventually, I got up to hit the bathroom and caught the band starting “Powderfinger” on my way back. I camped out near the top of the outdoor venue and took it all in, taking particular note of what I would assume were SDSU students enjoying a heavily muffled version of the show from behind the stage. Young played a solo, four-song acoustic set of classics (including a pristine “Harvest Moon”) before Crazy Horse rejoined him to end the night with a sloppy-but-fun “Rockin’ in the Free World” that seemed to accidentally end too early before the band kicked things back into gear to give the show a more fitting finale.

After the encore, I asked Austin what he thought of the concert, and he gave me a thumbs up. It’s interesting to see these legendary rockers continuously gaining fans from younger generations. It could be that younger listeners these days are more open to embracing various genres of music, whereas older generations might be more likely to get stuck in their specific lanes. Austin will be traveling to Colorado to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard this fall, and I suspect the majority of the heavily 50+ audience here tonight would have absolutely no clue who that band is.

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Neil Young and Crazy Horse: neither burning out nor fading away.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse: neither burning out nor fading away.
Video:

GONZO: Neil Young performing "Harvest Moon" at Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater on 4/24/2024


I caught a Neil Young show last summer when he performed at the Rady Shell as part of his Coastal tour. That event showcased Young tackling deeper cuts from his expansive catalog in (primarily) solo acoustic mode. I certainly didn’t think I would be seeing him again in San Diego, less than a year later, with his band Crazy Horse backing him at the Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theater. Young has worn many musical hats throughout his career, but Crazy Horse has always served as the raw, hard-rocking bar band whose music solidified his christening as “The Godfather of Grunge” in the early ‘90s. At 78, this godfather is now old enough to be a great-grandfather. And he’s the youngster of the group, as far as the original members go. Ralph Molina (drums) and Billy Talbot (bass) are both 80. For this tour, the trio was joined by a much younger guy, Micah Nelson (33), on guitar. Interesting side note: Micah’s father, Willie (age 92, maybe you’ve heard of him) played the Rady Shell earlier in the same week.

I was up in the cheap seats, as $133 is apparently considered “cheap” for a ticket these days. I got lucky, though, as the father and son duo to my left had shelled out over $200 (each) for resale tickets on StubHub. The pair had traveled down from Rancho Cucamonga to see the show. The 21-year-old son, Austin, told me that his favorite Neil Young album was Rust Never Sleeps. “There’s a small string of songs on that album — I think it’s ‘Sail Away,’ ‘Pocahontas,’ and ‘My My, Hey Hey’ — those are some of his better-known songs. It’s easy listening, and I’ve just always enjoyed it.” This was his first time seeing Young. “I’ve been trying to see him since 2020, and I missed the opportunity last year when he came out to California,” he explained. “I think it will be great. I think it’s the second show of the tour. He’s not going to be burnt out. I like the earlier Crazy Horse era. I’m not super well-versed in his later years, especially the newer stuff, so this is perfect for me.”

Sponsored
Sponsored

I guess it would be easiest to characterize openers Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir as a sort of gospel revival band that focuses on the evils of consumerism and consumption. It’s an odd act to be watching while you’re drinking an $18 IPA and sitting in a nosebleed seat that, as previously mentioned, wasn’t exactly a bargain. Once they were done, the Love Earth backdrop came down, revealing the legendary Crazy Horse logo, along with the gigantic, oversized fake Fender amplifiers that date back to the 1970s and which can be seen in the Rust Never Sleeps concert film. (The period-correct road crew dressed as Star Wars Jawas would have been an added treat.)

The first song of the evening was the entrancing “Cortez the Killer.” It was the perfect entry-point for this older version of the band to ease into the set, and one which sparked many burners as members of the audience fired up their weed stashes. Next up was another crowd pleaser, “Cinnamon Girl,” which was followed by a string of songs primarily pulled from their 1990 album Ragged Glory. Eventually, I got up to hit the bathroom and caught the band starting “Powderfinger” on my way back. I camped out near the top of the outdoor venue and took it all in, taking particular note of what I would assume were SDSU students enjoying a heavily muffled version of the show from behind the stage. Young played a solo, four-song acoustic set of classics (including a pristine “Harvest Moon”) before Crazy Horse rejoined him to end the night with a sloppy-but-fun “Rockin’ in the Free World” that seemed to accidentally end too early before the band kicked things back into gear to give the show a more fitting finale.

After the encore, I asked Austin what he thought of the concert, and he gave me a thumbs up. It’s interesting to see these legendary rockers continuously gaining fans from younger generations. It could be that younger listeners these days are more open to embracing various genres of music, whereas older generations might be more likely to get stuck in their specific lanes. Austin will be traveling to Colorado to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard this fall, and I suspect the majority of the heavily 50+ audience here tonight would have absolutely no clue who that band is.

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