Photo: Steve Soyland

I saw Neil Young & Crazy Horse a little over 20 years ago—February 24, 1991 to be exact, at what was then called the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, NJ. It’s now the MetLife Arena, but everyone my age still calls it the Meadowlands. The opening acts were Sonic Youth and Social Distortion. Both bands were kinda dwarfed by the arena setting, to be honest. Setlist.fm says Sonic Youth played eight songs, three from Goo and a bunch of older stuff, but I barely remember them being there at all. (I’d been much more into them a year or two earlier, having liked Bad Moon Rising, Sister, EVOL and Daydream Nation a lot but been seriously disappointed by Goo.) I liked Social Distortion‘s self-titled Epic album—Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, which is even better, wouldn’t be released until 1992—but they made no impression at all on such a huge stage. I saw them again a few years later, headlining a medium-sized NYC club, and they tore the place down. (The third and last time I saw them, they were attempting to return to their mid ’80s roots—frontman Mike Ness was wearing eyeliner again—and they kinda sucked.)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse, by contrast, were arena-sized and more. The live album from that tour, Weld, might be the single loudest disc in Young’s catalog (only the Eldorado EP, which is practically metal, comes close), but compared to the show I saw, it’s practically Harvest. He was deep in the throes of feedback worship, spinning out epic, jamming versions of ’70s anthems alongside tracks from the then-new Ragged Glory.

Weld was joined in record stores by Arc, a seamless, one-track 35-minute compilation of intros, outros, feedback, distortion, and seemingly random bits of half-in-tune singing. It’s a very interesting idea, but the execution falls short—frankly, Young’s inclusion of vocals as something to hang onto saps the impact of the work as a whole.

Arc II, created by a Young fan named “Nigel” and originally posted on the Doom & Gloom From the Tomb blog, almost avoids falling prey to the same weakness. The two parts—one 35 minutes long, like the original, the other nearly 42 minutes—are edited together from multiple bootlegs of recent tours, during which Young has been cranking up the amps again, playing ’70s songs alongside tracks from the now 22-year-old Ragged Glory and the new Psychedelic Pill, most notably “Walk Like a Giant,” which is nearly 17 minutes long in its studio version and features an extended coda somewhere between Fushitsusha and Earth circa Earth 2. Naturally, this coda has been growing ever longer and more punishing live, threatening to turn Neil Young & Crazy Horse shows into Sunn O)))-esque exercises in high-volume low-end drone.

The first track, in fact, kicks off with a slow fade-in on the end of a version of “Walk Like a Giant.” As the stomping, feedback-noise-and-Ralph Molina‘s-kick-drum final movement of the piece begins, it’s combined with similar passages from other shows into a single seamless exercise in amp-frying, brain-crushing sonic devastation. The second, longer track is slightly less astonishing. Like Young’s original Arc, it features intermittent snatches of vocals and actual riffs breaking up the waves of noise and distortion (it’s mostly built around versions of “Like a Hurricane”), with his voice wavering in and out of tune. Oh, and it ends with the playing of “O Canada” over the arena sound system, with some audience members singing along. It’s less satisfying than the first piece, to my ear; the seams are just a little bit easier to spot (though it’s still a fantastic piece of work, given the conditions under which it was recorded and the laptop-based technology that was probably used to create it), and it’s too anchored in an actual song, returning to the theme and the riff too many times. The first, better piece takes “Walk Like a Giant” as a jumping-off point, but then becomes its own thing.

But don’t take my word for it—listen for yourself.

Phil Freeman

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