This is a really good live album, but it makes a really tough listen. Young continues his thesis from Ragged Glory that the more ultra-distorted guitar, the better. And, after sitting through this album several times, I’ve gotten so much guitar that my head is pounding from it. Most of these guitar solos, I’d say, are very good. Young has a good idea how to make them cool without sounding cliche. Even at times he seems to let that electric guitar be an extension of his own warped personality, which is undoubtedly the reason a lot of people enjoy Weld so much!
But at other times, he seems to go off on these overextended, ear-piercing tangents that are aimless and terrible. I’m specifically talking about the times when he makes that guitar screeeeeeech like some sort of evil demon that’s trying to suck my soul out of my nostrils. That’s right; my soul out of my nostrils. Do people actually enjoy listening to that? Other times, he’s doing these sloppy, one-tone wonky things for many many minutes, and they come very close to driving me completely nuts! Why must he do that? So, if you’re going to listen to Weld and you don’t worship the electric guitar, then there’s going to be a price to pay.
But you probably noticed by the exceptionally high album score, these complaints ended up only having minor bearing on my overall impression of the album. So what made this live album so great to deserve such a high score? It was the song selection!! For the most part, he only covers songs that I already liked to begin with … Even the ones I didn’t like at least had pretty strong hooks, and he tended to improve them. So, yes, I did like the album. It was also an entirely crowd-pleasing effort since he completely ignored all of his 1980-1988 albums, which his big fans never liked, but he borrows freely from his 1969-1979 and 1989-1990 material. (Oh man! And I was really itching for something from Everybody’s Rockin’!)
It’s also a loooooooong live album. It’s a double one that clocks in at an incredible 115 minutes. If you scan the track listing, there are only 16… Yeah, and many of them are extended to 10 minutes. Luckily, most of them are far from tedious. As I already said, they usually have a good hook or a good riff to keep it chugging along, and of course Young’s guitar noodles do what they can to elevate them. “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)” is the first song and my favorite one seeing that it was my favorite song on my favorite Neil Young album. He opens it with those super dark and distorted guitar tones, the sort that infested Ragged Glory like cockroaches, but it’s still great to hear them in limited supply… which is what he does. After the intro, he tends to adopt more usual (though still dark) guitar tones.
“F*!#in’ Up,” “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “Mansion on the Hill” were each from Young’s previous two albums, and highlights of them For the most part, they keep that good central hook, and the electric guitar work throughout keeps them engaging for their entire REALLY LONG track lengths. Other songs like “Love and Only Love” and “Crime in the City” didn’t impress me much at all, originally, but they had a lot more life put into them here… so I like them now! “Welfare Mothers,” the worst of the bunch from Rust Never Sleeps, starts out to be much smoother and electrifying than the original version, but they do this curious thing at the end. It’s a really ugly symphony of guitar distortion and feedback and play-acting tacked on the end completely ruined what was otherwise a decent song (albeit that riff still isn’t the greatest).
The version of “Cortez the Killer” in Zuma was much more engaging and emotive than this version, but I really like hearing it all the same. It’s probably the album’s only slow song … the guitars come off more contemplative instead of psychologically maladjusted … So, its position smack dab in the middle of the album is a much-appreciated “intermission.” The most surprising track of the album is undoubtedly the cover of the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” It is played incredibly slowly and Young and Crazy Horse essentially sing it a cappella. (They strum a super-distorted guitar throughout it, but it sounds utterly detached from the melody.) I started listening to that rendition hating it, but after listening to it for awhile, I found the experience to be almost frighteningly engaging. Yeah, I don’t understand it either.
I’ll just repeat the point that you’re REALLY going to have to like the electric guitar if you’re going to like Weld. Honestly, I prefer to just listen to a bunch of foofy British guys with hair-dos plomp around with synthesizers and cheesy drum machines… But even the non-dork inside of me really enjoys much of this mean guitar that Neil Young is able to play, even if he tries my patience now and again.
Stephen Stills once jammed with the Grateful Dead and referred to them afterwards as the greatest garage band in the world. Even as a longtime DeadHead, I must respectfully disagree with that assessment. Stills should check out a former bandmate of his: Neil Young. I have been a Neil Young fan for over two decades. I tend to enjoy his iconoclastic approach to music. I also appreciate the different styles of music he experiments with along the way.
But I have consistently found that my favorite Neil music is the work he does with Crazy Horse. There is a kind of magic that occurs whenever they play together. I can remember a documentary from a few years ago when Neil’s father marveled at the fact that Neil & the Horse keep getting better. After three decades, I guess they should know each other pretty well.
Neil is planning a tour with the Horse this summer so we shall see how true his father’s assessment was. Meanwhile, I’ll have to settle for a double live disc that was released in 1991. Weld is a two disc set that features over two hours of music and sixteen tracks. There was a companion piece called Arc which is merely feedback and distortion. I don’t own Arc so I can’t comment on it.
I was listening to both Weld and Live Rust recently. Both are great sets but I did find Weld to be the superior set. It burns and blisters with passion and intensity. The songs were culled from Neil’s tour in the winter of 1991. They don’t list where the songs were actually recorded but I remember going to see this tour in Philly and New York. Neil was playing with an extraordinary degree of conviction.
The set list for disc one is:
1. Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)
2. Crime In the City
3. Blowin’In the Wind
4. Welfare Mothers
5. Love to Burn
6. Cinnamon Girl
7. Mansion On the Hill
8. F*!#in’ Up
Hey Hey My My (Into the Black) is a great way to begin a Neil Young & Crazy Horse set. This ode to Johnny Rotten and the spirit or rock’n’roll rebellion reasserts Neil’s belief in Rock Music. The band is cranking it up from the start. If I can digress and add a little sidebar: Sonic Youth opened on this tour. Neil took Thurston Moore to school on use of distortion and feedback. There are many fans of Folky Neil that will probably find the aggressive rawness of this music to be disconcerting.
Neil & the Horse are unrelenting on this disc. Crime In the City and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’In the Wind continue the assault on the senses. Neil does not do a folky rendition of the Dylan classic. The intro feedback suggests sirens and fast moving traffic on a highway. Neil is poignant in singing the lyrics but a touch of anger also prevails.
Welfare Mothers (Make Better Lovers) is a sarcastic song but still a bit humorous. Love to Burn was a newer song at the time from the Ragged Glory CD. Cinnamon Girl is an old nugget. Both are well rendered on this set. But they are among the weaker tracks on the disc. That is less a criticism of these two songs as it is praise for how good the rest of the disc is. Love to Burn is a lengthy jam though that does show off the interactive among band members.
The last two songs on disc one were also from the underrated Ragged Glory disc. Mansion On the Hill and F*!#in’ Up. They both burn with a passion. The last song resonates with a question I’m sure many of us ask of ourselves from time to time: “Why do I keep f***ing up?”
The song list for disc two is:
1. Cortez the Killer
3. Love and Only Love
4. Rockin’ In the Free World
5. Like a Hurricane
6. Farmer John
7. Tonight’s the Night
8. Roll Another Number
This disc opens up with stellar versions of two more old Neil classics. Most Neil Young fans will remember Cortez the Killer and Powderfinger from the classic 1979 live album Live Rust. I find both songs to be better played on Weld. Cortez is more thoroughly jammed out. The rhythm section of Ralph Molina on drums and Billy Talbot on bass provide an amazing backdrop for the music. Mention should also be made of second guitarist Frank (Poncho) Sampedro aka the new guy. He’s only been in the band since 1974.
Love and Only Love is a long jam that is as close to a ballad as anything on the set. It rambles on for over nine minutes. Then, he does a version of Rockin’ In the Free World. This is one of the few classic Neil song’s to emerge from the 80s. It is still a passionate celebration of rock and roll.
The centerpiece of disc two and the entire set is the long, rollicking version of Like a Hurricane. This has always been one of my favorite Neil songs. Here it is converted into a 13:26 jam. It opens with feedback that vaguely simulates a serious thunderstorm. Neil sings with his raspy voice on this one. As near as I can tell, it is about a tumultuous relationship. Whatever the case, it makes for some spectacular rock music.
Of the last three songs on the disc, two tend to be more fun oriented song. Tonight’s the Night is a dark, brooding song about the destructive problems of drug addiction. Many believe the song was written about former Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who died of an overdose in the early 70s.
Farmer John was written by Don Harris and Dewey Terry back in 1959. It’s a fun rockabilly type song. The last song on the disc is a great lesser known Neil Young gem called Roll Another Number. It’s a great rock’n’roll song to close off the disc.
The two discs here make for a great selection of great live Neil Young & Crazy Horse. This is raunchy, raucous rock at its finest. There is a chemistry that exists whenever Neil hooks up with Crazy Horse. I like most of his music but I always find his work with the Horse to be the most fun. I recommend this for fans of grunge, guitar madness and general down and dirty rock-n-roll. It’s also a must have for Neil fans everywhere (except maybe the previously mentioned Folky Neil fans).
I’ll close this review with a note that I wrote down when I got home from the Philly show on the tour this set is culled from: “Whenever I forget what rock & roll is all about, Neil Young is always there with a reminder.” Neil Young & Crazy Horse gets my vote for greatest garage band in the world.