NEIL YOUNG and CRAZY HORSE Feat NILS LOFGREN – ” Warnors Theater Fresno, CA ” 5/2/2018

Posted: April 7, 2019 in MUSIC
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Nils Lofgren performs at the 30th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert at the Shoreline Ampthitheatre, in Mountain View, Calif30th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert - Day 2, San Francisco, USA

Nils Lofgren was lounging by the pool of his Phoenix, Arizona, home with his wife Amy in April 2018 when the phone rang. “It was a Saturday,” recalls the guitarist. “I got a pad and paper out as I thought to myself, ‘Who is calling on a weekend? What will I need to take care of now? What business do I need to address?’ That was the cynic in me.”

It turned out to be Neil Young. “He said, ‘Look, we have these five Crazy Horse theaters shows booked in California to commemorate the release of the Roxy album Lofgren says. “[Crazy Horse guitarist] Poncho [Sampedro] can’t make it. Instead of canceling the shows, we’re wondering if you can walk in pretty much without any rehearsal and wing it with us?’”

The request left Lofgren completely stunned. He had got his first big break back in 1970 when Young invited him to play on After the Gold Rush when he was just 19. He went on to join Crazy Horse for their 1971 self-tiled LP (recorded without Neil Young) and two years later he cut Tonight’s the Night with Young and the Crazy Horse rhythm section of Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot. But besides sporadic charity shows and the 1993 MTV Unplugged special, Lofgren hadn’t really been in one of Young’s backing bands since the Trans tour in 1982.

Once he got over the shock, Young filled him on in the details. Three concerts were on the books in Fresno, California, and another two in Bakersfield, California. Lofgren was due to kick off an extensive U.K. tour on May 14th , just eight days after the last show  but if he rejiggered his schedule and missed just a single day of production rehearsal, it would be feasible for him to make it work. “I talked to Amy and looked at the calendar and said, ‘Man, count me in,’” says Lofgren. “He said, ‘Give me a day. I’ll call you back to see if I can make this happen.’ The next day he called back and said, ‘We’re on. Let’s do it.’”

In keeping with Young’s longstanding “Don’t Spook the Horse” rule, he decided they’d forego any formal rehearsals even though Lofgren hadn’t played a show with Molina and Talbot since the end of the Tonight’s the Night tour in 1973. “The first time we put on our instruments was at soundcheck,” says Lofgren. “It was really seat-of-your pants.”

It sent Lofgren’s mind right back to the Tonight’s the Night sessions, shortly after the death of original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry. “We’d get together at dinner time and drink and play pool, smoke a little Thai weed and not worry about music,” he says. “It wasn’t until after midnight we’d go into the studio and play. Neil would sketch out three or four songs we really didn’t know. He said, ‘I don’t want you to know them. I want to do an anti-production record. I don’t want you to have a part for the chorus and a part for the verse. I don’t want you get to know them that well.

Opening night of the 2018 Crazy Horse run wasn’t quite that impromptu, but Lofgren still had to tackle songs like “Big Time” and “Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)” that he’d never played live in any capacity, with or without Young. But he’d done his homework and was able to feed off the energy all around him and deliver a killer show. “I knew songs like ‘Don’t Cry No Tears’ and ‘Like a Hurricane’ from the Trans tour,” says Lofgren. “And I’m grateful he included songs in the set from After the Gold Rush and Tonight’s the Night.”

Whenever they played a Tonight’s the Night song, it was essentially a complete reunion of Young’s backing band from that period minus the late Ben Keith. “We thought, ‘Four of the five of us are standing,’” says Lofgren. “‘That’s gotta be good. We’ll take it. We’ll miss Ben, but his spirit is with us.’”

There were no future plans for Crazy Horse after the mini-tour wrapped up May 6th, 2018, at the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, and Lofgren flew off to England thinking he may never play with them again. But then in December he got another call from Young. “He said, ‘I’m going to Winnipeg where I have such a long history,’” recalls Lofgren. “‘I want to visit old family and friends and do a couple of shows with Crazy Horse. Can you make it?’”

He happily accepted, though this time he had a little bit more time to prepare. While Young was busy playing solo shows in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Lofgren travelled to South Dakota to rehearse with Ralph Molina and Billy Talbot at the bass player’s home studio. It was at the peak of the polar vortex gripping much of the country and the temperature was well below zero. “Just walking across the ice and the howling wind in South Dakota to the studio was a big adventure every day,” says Lofgren. “Each time I was like, ‘We made it! Nobody fell and broke anything!’”

If that wasn’t frigid enough, the three of them then got onto a tour bus and drove more than 10 hours to Winnipeg for the shows. It was roughly 15 below before you even factored in the wind chill. “We were going right into the heart of the polar vortex,” says Lofgren. “Amy sat me down repeatedly and was like, ‘Look, you must promise that if the bus breaks down, before you do anything, before you call me, you call 911,’” Lofgren recalls. “‘This is not weather to mess around with. This kills people.’”

They managed to make to make it to Winnipeg without freezing to death or calling in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to rescue them. And once again, Young wanted the shows to be spontaneous. “He said, ‘I’m here with my old family and friends and I don’t want to even write a set list,’” Lofgren recalls. “‘Let’s just figure it out as we go. But don’t think. You guys rehearsed hard in South Dakota. Just don’t think. Let’s go and have an experience.’ The first night was a lot of rockiness in and out and the second night, man, we hit some groove and it felt kind of like flying or floating. It was very cool.”

The future for Neil Young and Crazy Horse is very unclear. Young has many shows on the books during the next few months, but all of them are either with Promise of the Real or solo. No explanation has been given for Poncho’s absence from the recent run of shows, but if Young decides to call up Lofgren again, he’ll be there. “It’s been a beautiful opportunity to play with dear friends that are still alive and well,” he says. “Look, I hope there’s more, but I’ll take it a gig at a time right now.”

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