Neil Young

On Wednesday night, the legendary Neil Young & Crazy Horse – composed of drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot, and Willie Nelson’s son, Micah Nelson on guitar – returned to Metro Detroit for the first time in 20 years, delivering an electrifying performance at Michigan’s iconic Pine Knob Theatre in Clarkston, MI. The sold-out show was a testament to the enduring appeal of this rock icon and band, but most importantly, how their music has transcended generations.

The evening kicked off by dropping a massive backdrop showcasing the words “Love Earth” in bold white letters which revealed the stage. As Neil & The Horse started the night with popular hit “Cortez The Killer”, the crowd roared as they were immediately immersed in the raw, unfiltered sound that defines Neil Young & Crazy Horse which was the perfect setup for a night of classics. Anyone could tell the chemistry between the band was palpable from the moment they came on stage – their synergy clearly honed over decades of collaboration. Oftentimes, the band would get as lost in the music as the audience, circling together on stage while delivering flowing guitar solos and their famous instrumental breaks.


As the night progressed, I took a moment to reflect on Neil Young’s history with Michigan, adding a layer of nostalgia to the performance. Perhaps not a nostalgia to be indulged in myself, but for the generation of people around me who had probably seen Young perform live – not only in his prime, but in theirs.

For us “younger” fans, it may be a surprise to know Young spent some of his time in and around Michigan. Young lived in Toronto for much of his life and in the mid-1960s, he reached the Detroit music scene. During this time, he joined a band called the Mynah Birds who signed to Motown Records in 1966, and also included future funk legend Rick James. Although this band did not achieve commercial success, this period was significant in Neil Young’s early career development. Michigan fans never forget a familiar face and were eager to welcome Neil & The Horse back, selling out this appearance to thousands from as young as 4 years old to well over 75.

The 16-song setlist was a perfectly curated list of classic hits and deeper cuts, showcasing the breadth of Young’s musical genius over the decades he’s been making music. Highlights included classics such as “Down By The River”, a searing rendition of “Like a Hurricane”, and a poignant performance of the tour-titling-tune “Love Earth”, each song met with roaring applause from a fully captivated audience.

One of my favorite performances of the night was Young’s 1974 song “Vampire Blues” which carries an ever-important message, considering we are still fighting against environmental damage today. Musically, “Vampire Blues” features a slow, steady rhythm with a prominent bassline and sparse instrumentation that danced beneath the vocals, allowing Young’s vocals and guitar work to take center stage, hypnotizing the audience with lyrics sung with earnestness. His signature electric guitar tone, characterized by its effortless yet almost gritty quality, complements the song’s dark thematic content while the simplicity of the arrangement underscores the weight of the message, emphasizing the bleakness of the situation Young describes. The song felt like a moment of reflection for the audience, many who were normally cheering the band on and singing along, now standing silently taking in the songs message.

Lyrically, “Vampire Blues” is a scathing indictment of the greed and environmental destruction associated with the oil industry – something Young takes very seriously. Lines like “I’m a vampire, baby, suckin’ blood from the earth” leave little to the imagination, painting a vivid picture of the continuous exploitation and environmental harm. Among many others, Young has always had a tendency to address world issues in his music which is what (I think) speaks to audiences of all generations, 50 years later. The entire 16-song and almost two-hour setlist was as follows:

Set List:
● Cortez the Killer
● Cinnamon Girl
● Fuckin’ Up
● Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)
● Like a Hurricane
● Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
● Vampire Blues
● Down by the River
● Powderfinger
● Love and Only Love
● Comes a Time
● Heart of Gold
● Love Earth
● Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
● Don’t Cry No Tears
● Roll Another Number (For the Road)

On what can only be described as a perfect Michigan summer night, the band’s musicianship was on full display. Crazy Horse’s non-intrusive but powerful instrumentation complemented Young’s unmistakable voice and guitar playing, creating an immersive live music experience that only those who were there can fully understand. The evening culminated with an extended encore jam session on “Roll Another Number” which is all about the little pleasures of life on the road and a perfect farewell as Neil & The Horse exited the stage – leaving fans exhilarated and longing for more.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s performance was not just a concert, but a celebration of a storied career intertwined with Michigan’s rich musical history along the way. The audience left with a renewed appreciation for Young’s profound impact on rock music and a sense of pride in his connection to their state. We hope to see Neil & The Horse back in Michigan for another performance before their retirement, but we can’t help but feel that we experienced a once-in-a-lifetime show, considering this could very well be 78-year-old Neil Young and 80-year-old Crazy Horse member’s last major tour.

All photos by Gabriella Csapo


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