DVD review

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Year Of The Horse

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Year Of The Horse

DVD debut of long-unavailable concert footage from 1996, with bonus backstage access...

As their recent shows confirmed, there are few more glorious sights in rock'n'roll than Neil Young & Crazy Horse in full flow, a bunch of grizzled old geezers galumphing round the stage like golems trying to party. In this Jim Jarmusch concert documentary shot in 1996, that quality is splendidly on show throughout the live segments, most notably the raw, raucous version of "Fuckin' Up" that seems to smoulder right through the screen. This isn't older musicians trying to sustain some delusion of youthful potency; this is a bunch of middle-aged men, led by a surly, stomping guitarist in baggy knee-length shorts and a nondescript T-shirt. But the very lack of self-conscious stagecraft carries with it the implication that what you're being given is something purely musical, unmediated by modern digital strategies that demand everything be a multi-platform, multi-media, interactive experience. It's pure rock'n'roll, as the introductory tagline explains, "Made loud to be played loud. CRANK IT UP!".

Jarmusch filmed a couple of dates, at a Roman amphitheatre in Vienne, France, and at The Gorge, in Washington state, in Super-8 film, the grainy quality of which matches both the attitude of the band's performance, and the earlier backstage footage from 1976 and 1986 which, along with more recent interviews, punctuates the music. It's all neatly stitched together - the "Fuckin' Up" performance, for instance, slips straight into a backstage argument from Rotterdam in 1986 between Young and bassist Billy Talbot about somebody fucking up that performance: Young is heated, furiously demanding, and Talbot gives as good as he gets in return, an indication of the untrammelled flow of energy within the band. Elsewhere, we get to see the 1976 band in dumb rock-tour mode, burning fake flowers in a Glasgow hotel room, and there's a brilliant, brief moment from that tour showing Young smashing his head on a table in mock-exhaustion as he's about to be interviewed by Richard Williams.

It's far from the ideal Neil and Crazy Horse setlist, with only a handful of classics – including a version of "Tonight's The Night" following a segment about the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry – sprinkled parsimoniously through the show. But it barely matters: as Young maintains, "It's all one song," an ongoing flow of music hewn into eight-to ten-minute chunks. And any technical effects are kept to a minimum, and used subtly, as when stage footage of the band playing "Slips Away" is blended with a tour bus shot of passing sky and landscape.

The most dramatic moment, though, comes during "Like A Hurricane", which begins in usual manner, as if the song is being wrenched physically from the sound, like a tectonic plate shifting free, the kind of suitably elemental approach that no other bunch of ndad-rockers would dare attempt - then suddenly, seamlessly segues into a younger, thinner-faced Neil playing the song at Hammersmith Odeon in 1976. It's a startling coup de cinéma which perfectly illustrates his earlier contention that "the older we get, the more we realise how special it is".
Andy Gill

Visit our dedicated features section, with plenty of our best long pieces archived there. You can find it here.

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Rating: 8 / 10

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