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Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 04:27 PM

Neil Young and Crazy Horse play from 'Psychedelic Pill' Saturday

By Charles R. Cross
Special to The Seattle Times

Neil Young titled his recent memoir "Waging Heavy Peace," which is appropriate — at least the "heavy" part — because his new tome is 497 pages long.

But an even better title might have been "Ancient History Up Close," part of a line in the book about Young's long-running band Crazy Horse, with whom he plays KeyArena Saturday. Young wrote that line arguing that if he were to tour with Crazy Horse again, he'd need to perform new songs "for me to feel anything other than ancient history up close."

Young is doing just that, with his first release of original material with Crazy Horse in nine years, on the double album "Psychedelic Pill," out last week.

They'll play a lot of that new material Saturday, along with old classics like "Powderfinger," material ideal for Crazy Horse to rock out on. But the new songs also feel a bit ancient, as the best of Neil's material always does.

The album's raucous "Walk Like a Giant" is invigorated fire and brimstone, and sounds straight out of the early '70s. Another new song, "Ramada Inn," which Young has played at every tour stop so far, is both tight but loose — Crazy Horse at its very best.

Young hasn't chosen yet to perform "Driftin' Back" on this tour, but at longer than 27 minutes, that one song from the new album would fill a significant portion of the concert. It may be best Young has skipped it, since the song meanders a bit.

He is performing the "Psychedelic Pill" album title track, which also lyrically meanders toward whining, a barb often thrown at Young by his critics, but one he ignores.

Young's book "Waging Heavy Peace" has garnered more press than the new album, and for good reason. The album is only so-so. But in the book, Young addresses his long career with short sentences and plain prose, a dose of his typical understated sarcasm throughout.

"I read up on this sort of thing, and the worst thing you can have is a book that is too long," he writes in his 497-page doorstop.

He knows he's funny.

"I have been with some of you for a real long time, and others of you don't have the foggiest notion what I am or what I stand for," he writes. "I am possibly joining those legions myself."

He is referring here to his fear that he'll suffer dementia, a medical condition that runs in his family and that he worries may have already begun.

While Young pontificates on his mortality in "Waging Heavy Peace," he also talks about how it has pushed him to embrace sobriety for the first extended period of his life.

"I am feeling very fashionable, even trendy, for having stopped smoking and drinking," he writes.

Drugs have long been a part of Young's muse, and often the subject of his songs, particularly those he played with Crazy Horse. Marijuana was usually something he championed ("Roll Another Number"), while heroin was a darker dance, and it took away Danny Whitten, Crazy Horse's original guitar player, who Young argues was "every bit the artist that I am."

On his sobriety, Young writes, "I am now the straightest I have ever been since I was eighteen."

Young still wonders if he'll ever be able to write another song sober.

"I haven't yet," he reveals.

He knows the fact that he's stopped "smoking weed" will be a revelation to his fans, but he announces the news with the caveat "not that it matters much."

Almost everything Young does, writes or plays matters to his fans. He's left "Homegrown" out of his current set, but "Needle and the Damage Done" is usually played every night, one of his many songs from the '70s that still has meaning to his fan base. His music may, at times, be "ancient history up close," but it still has significance to many, and often the more ancient it is, the more his fans like it.

"Why do you play with Crazy Horse," he quotes one of his critics asking in the new book, "(since) they can't play?"

Young weighs the point a bit, but as with most arguments he deflects it with a simple truth.

"I can go places with them," he writes as his explanation.

And he can.

Charles R. Cross: therocketmagazinelives@gmail.com or www.charlesrcross.com

On the Internet

Hear Crazy Horse: www.youtube.com, search "Crazy Horse," "Powderfinger."

Concert preview

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

7:30 p.m. Saturday, KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; $55-$180 (800-653-8000 or www.ticketmaster.com).


BARRY BRECHEISEN / INVISION
Crazy Horse's Frank Sampedro, left, Billy Talbot and Neil Young performed in Mountain View, Calif., in October. The band plays Saturday in Seattle.




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