Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live in San Diego: Review - Best Classic Bands (2024)

REVIEWS:Live Shows

by Thomas K. Arnold

Neil Young in San Diego, April 2024 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

After watching his electrifying performance, with Crazy Horse, at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater, one might be tempted to compare Neil Young to an old car that looks shabby and worn, but once the engine starts up, it runs like a top-of-the-line sports car, whizzing down the highway and deftly maneuvering through all sorts of twists and turns.

The second of two San Diego shows by the 78-year-old singer, songwriter, guitarist and rock ‘n’ roll icon, on April 25, 2024, was a dazzling musical spectacle, the kind of concert we all want but don’t always get, particularly from legacy artists who are pushing 80.

Young’s voice has never sounded better, and his guitar playing was absolutely ferocious. Young doesn’t play the guitar, he attacks it, and the result is a primal scream of piercing solos and fuzzy chops that have earned him a reputation as something of a guitar anti-hero. Forget style, forget technique—it’s rough, it’s raw, it’s real.

The two San Diego shows kicked off Young’s “Love Earth” tour, his first in more than a decade with Crazy Horse, the crack backup band that is to Neil Young what the E Street Band is to Bruce Springsteen. Drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, both original members of Crazy Horse, have backed Young since 1969; newcomer Micah Nelson—yes, Willie’s son—came aboard this year as a replacement for regular Crazy Horse guitarist Nils Lofgren. (Lofgren played with Crazy Horse from 1970 to 1971, then joined the E Street Band in 1984 before rejoining Crazy Horse in 2018.)

Neil Young (at right) with Crazy Horse, San Diego, April 2024 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

Young and his band opened their second show here with an electrifying 10-minute rendition of “Cortez the Killer,” from the 1975 Zuma album. Young has never succumbed to predictability, so the fact that he opened with an extended jam one might have expected as an encore wasn’t really a surprise. With Neil Young, you expect the unexpected.

Watch the previous night’s performance of “Cortez the Killer”

If “Cortez” was hard to top, Young and crew managed to do precisely that with “Cinnamon Girl,” from 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young’s first album with Crazy Horse. “Cinnamon Girl” is one of those songs that sticks with you the moment you hear it. It’s also famous for the one-note guitar solo, a repeating jangly D, that Young is known for.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Everybody Knows…

Next came “Scattered,” off 1996’s Broken Arrow album, followed by four tunes from 1990’s Ragged Glory, Young’s highly praised grunge album that marked a return to the heavy rock sound of his first album with Crazy Horse: “Country Home,” “White Line,” “f*ckin’ Up” and “Love to Burn.” Why did Young choose four songs in a row from Ragged Glory? Maybe because his latest album, also called f*ckin’ Up, is a live recording of the entire Ragged Glory LP; the new record was released April 26, a day after the San Diego concert.

Neil Young played a solo acoustic mini-set at San Diego, April 2024 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

After a stirring rendition of 1979’s evocative “Powderfinger” and another Ragged Glory/f*ckin’ Up song, “Love and Only Love,” Young and his three band mates left the stage. Moments later, Young came back out alone, with acoustic guitar and harmonica. He treated the audience to a quartet of quieter songs, first his breakout 1972 hit “Heart of Gold,” from his solo album Harvest, followed by the title track to 1978’s folky Comes a Time album; the country-tinged “Harvest Moon,” from his 1992 LP of the same name, considered a belated follow-up to Harvest; and “Human Highway,” also from the Comes a Time album. The latter song was originally written for a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album that was never released.

Young then left the stage a second time, only to return with his band for a final encore, a loud, joyful version of the 1989 hit “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

The concert’s only flaw was that it was too short. Young and Crazy Horse played about an hour and 45 minutes, about standard for concerts but not nearly sufficient for Young’s huge library of classic rock anthems. Conspicuously absent were “Down by the River,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Hey Hey, My My,” all three of which were part of the previous night’s show, as well as “Cowgirl in the Sand,” one of Neil-and-the-Horse’s best-loved songs. And then there are all sorts of enticing deep cuts.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Live Rust

But hey hey, my my—the fact that Neil Young is even touring again, two years after saying he was done with going out on the road, is a cherished gift from the rock gods. Long may he run.

Watch Neil Young and Crazy Hose perform “Rockin’ in the Free World” in San Diego, 4/25/24

Tickets for the tour are available hereand here.

Young’s extensive recording library—including many box sets—is available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

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Thomas K. Arnold

Thomas K. Arnold is publisher and editorial director of Media Play News, a home entertainment trade publication. Before venturing into home video, he spent more than a decade writing about music. He was rock critic and columnist for the San Diego County Edition of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Magazine, and contributed reviews, features and interviews to Billboard, the Los Angeles Times, Goldmine, Relix and other music publications. In 1979 he founded Kicks: San Diego’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, which he turned over to an associate two years later to engineer the comeback for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live in San Diego: Review - Best Classic Bands (2024)
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