Neil Young spent his last tour doing song-focused sets accompanied by his lone guitar. On Tuesday night he hit the Petersen Events Center to make Le Noise with Le Crazy Horse, the band that brings out the beast in him.
It's his first run with the Horse since the "Greendale" tour wrapped in 2004, and it comes just a few weeks before the release of the new album, "Psychedelic Pill," so once again they had some new stuff to test out on the faithful.
Divide 120 by 12 and you get a sense of what went down at the Pete. That's the number of songs over two hours, telling you that Mr. Young spent some serious quality time with Old Black, his famed guitar.
In case you missed it before, this tour serves as a reminder of how he became the Godfather of Grunge, and going on 67, he will still out-grunge anyone who gets in his path.
With roadies and techs dressed as lab technicians running amok on the "Rust Never Sleeps" stage set (ah, the memories), Neil and Crazy Horse -- guitarist Frank "Poncho" Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina -- stepped out to the national anthem, before surging into 13 blissful, distortion-soaked minutes of "Love and Only Love."
He got people back into that "Rust" era with a "Powderfinger" that was as searing and impassioned as it ever was. He introduced his reflective new album, in rather hilarious style. After fumbling through the intro to "Born in Ontario," Neil put the brakes on the world's greatest garage band. "Before we play this song," he said, "I'd like to start together ... for you folks."
That proud little rocker gave way to the night's tour de force, "Walk Like a Giant," a new song that addresses his generation's failings and still-glimmering hopes. It was a launching pad for a furious jam that sprawled to 20 minutes, culminating in seismic stomps and monstrous bursts of feedback.
The sound that comes out of his guitar is unlike anything ever on the musical landscape. It's an old blast furnace raging. It's two battleships colliding. It's Godzilla fighting Mothra. Maybe it's whales or a metal machine apocalypse. It's frankly hard to describe, but you can check Guitar Magazine or Wikipedia if you want the specs.
With those techs making the Pete's dubious acoustics work to their favor, it didn't even hurt like you'd think, but he still sent Crazy Horse off while he gave our ears a rest on a lovely "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Twisted Road," a tribute to the joys of Dylan, the Dead and Roy (presumably Orbison). Although his hair is finally going, his voice is remarkably close to the strange beautiful instrument we first heard decades ago.
"Cinnamon Girl" rocked, of course, and that "Ragged Glory" song with the unprintable title was big sloppy fun, with Mr. Young yelling, "We [messed] up the ending!"
Before treating us to "Psychedelic Pill," he said, "Now, I'm gonna play a song that sounds exactly like all my other songs. In fact, you're all gonna think ya heard it a minute ago." And yes, it was another sludgy Crazy Horse jam with an absurdly heavy riff that prompted him to say, "I wrote that for the reviewer who said I could only play one [expletive] note. Now he can write a whole book about it!"
After all that, the main set could only end one way, with "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)," an anthem for rock 'n' roll, and the people who have lived and died for it.
This, ending with a 13-minute "Like a Hurricane," was a rock 'n' roll show for the ages -- and arguably the best of the year so far -- from four guys who have refused to burn out, fade away, die before they got old ... name your rock cliche. Long may they run.
Los Lobos, the pride of East LA and the world's greatest wedding band, brought some heat of its own in the opening slot, jamming through a set that included old faves like "Don't Worry, Baby" and ragged, rumbling cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha."
Neil Young Set List (with the time played)
1. Love and Only Love 9:08-9:21
2. Powderfinger 9:22-9:29
3. Born In Ontario 9:30-9:34
4. Walk Like a Giant 9:35-9:55
5. The Needle and the Damage Done 9:56-9:58
6. Twisted Road 9:59-10:02
7. Ramada Inn 10:02-10:17
8. Cinnamon Girl 10:17-10:21
9. F***in' Up 10:22-10:34
10. Psychedelic Pill 10:36-10:40
11. Hey Hey, My My 10:41-10:48
12. Like a Hurricane 10:52-11:05
Scott Mervis: Smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. First Published October 10, 2012 5:15 AM