NEW ORLEANS — Headlining Friday’s opening day of music at the Voodoo Music and Arts Experience in City Park, Neil Young and Crazy Horse lived up to their reputation for playing epic, jam-filled concerts.
Not only was their performance epic, many songs within the show stretched beyond 10 minutes.
Young and Crazy Horse walked onto the festival’s Le Ritual stage a few minutes before 9 p.m. Even though the massive Le Ritual stage is the largest of the six Voodoo Experience stages, Young, guitarist Poncho Sampedro and bassist Billy Talbot often gathered in a close circle directly in front of drummer Ralph Molina.
Despite being men in their 60s, Young and Crazy Horse displayed energy and passion that transcended their years. Wearing one of his signature plaid shirts, Young lurched forward during his guitar solos, attacking as much as playing the notes. And as the jams’ intensity grew, Sampedro hopped like a happy school boy.
During a show that rocked on past 11 p.m., the group performed many songs from its new “Psychedelic Pill” album. The band also played such decades-old favorites as “Cinnamon Girl,” “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and, a great, guitar-riff-propelled classic from Young’s ’60s stay with Buffalo Springfield, “Mr. Soul.”
As many musical highlights as the 67-year-old, Canadian-born Young created during his 50-plus years of music making, the newly written and recorded songs he and Crazy Horse played Friday are so quintessentially Young and Crazy Horse that they could have been made in 1970s.
Even after these many years, Young’s distinctively high, nasally voice has deepened only slightly. He still plays his guitar leads in a slow-hand, melodic style. Expression and exploration are important to him, not speed or technique. And Sampedro and Talbot, despite their age, continue to sing angelic backup vocals.
Young works in various musical formats apart from Crazy Horse, but on stage with the power trio again this year following nine years apart, he was in his element.
As a giant projection of Crazy Horse’s logo — an image of a Native American warrior rushing forth on horseback — loomed behind them, Young and Crazy Horse opened with the introspective, poignant “Love and Only Love.” True to form, the song lasted nearly 15 minutes.
Moving to new material from “Psychedelic Pill,” Young chronicled his traveling and philosophy in the twangy, good-natured “Born in Ontario.”
“You might see me in Alabam, or Baton Rouge, down in Louisiane,” he sang. “This old world has been good to me, so I try to give back and I try to be free.”
Feedback and distortion opened another new selection, “Walk Like A Giant,” before Young and Sampedro mutually whistled the happy tune that repeats throughout the song.
“Giant’s” lyrics are about the disappointment young people of the 1960s felt when they realized that their idealism wouldn’t necessarily change the world.
“We forgot how close we came,” Young sang before the band members began producing what apparently was their audio interpretation of a walking giant.
Noisy and spooky, the band’s sonic improvisation was a great fit for Voodoo Experience at night on Halloween weekend.