Of Concerts Past: Patti Smith and Neil Young (with Crazy Horse) in Philadelphia, 11/29/2012

Of all the shows in all the years of my near-40 years of concert-going, the greatest double bill I’ve (yet) had the pleasure to witness came not way back when nor in an iconic club or concert hall, but a mere 10 years ago at the Wells Fargo Arena in South Philadelphia, when Patti Smith opened for Neil Young and Crazy Horse on November 29, 2012. I’m not talking festivals or co-headlining gigs, mind you, but the traditional tours of both yore and today, where the opener has 45 minutes and the main act about two hours, give or take 30 minutes.

First things first: Tickets went on sale in June, not long after the release of Americana, a fun outing that found Neil & Horse frolicking through folk favorites, but months prior to their tremendous Psychedelic Pill—one of my favorite albums of this millennium. Our first level seats were decent but not great, and set us back $266, with an additional $32 in “service fees” plus $4.50 delivery fee and $6 order charge—$308.50 in total (the equivalent of $398.10 in 2022). Also, each of our tickets included a copy of Americana, which we received a month or two later, so we wound up with three of ‘em!

I don’t recall if I was aware that Patti Smith had been announced as the opener when I purchased the tickets, but if I did I would have been thrilled. Although a fan, I’d only seen her once before, in November 1995, when she played the TLA—a memorable night that found her intermingling poetry with acoustic (yet electric) renditions of such classics as “Dancing Barefoot” and “Because the Night.” And she didn’t disappoint this November night in 2012, either. In fact, she opened with a riveting “Dancing Barefoot”…

… and razed the roof off of the arena with “People Have the Power” and the closing “Land,” which she melded with another Horses song, “Gloria.” In between, she served up hypnotic renditions of two tracks from her recent Banga album, one from Gone Again, plus a cover of Neil’s “It’s a Dream” (from his Prairie Wind album). She’s one of a handful of opening acts that I’ve seen, especially in large venues, that the audience not only paid attention to from start to end, but was enthralled for every moment in between. The above fan-shot video gives a glimpse of what I mean, as does this one:

The quality of the latter is poor, no question, but man! What a performance! If you notice, she reworks some of the lyrics to “Horses” in order to pay homage to Philadelphia; she grew up in the Delaware Valley (Philly’s Germantown neighborhood, where she likely walked the same sidewalks as my great aunts and uncle, as well as Pitman, NJ, and Deptford Township, NJ), so each time back is a homecoming of sorts. As she walked off stage, both Diane and I were agog. There was no way that anyone could top that power-packed set. No way. 

And yet Neil Young and Crazy Horse did just that! They served up thud-thick chords, heavy beats, winding guitar solos, fogs of feedback, plus a few acoustic numbers. They opened with a blast of Ragged Glory, “Love and Only Love,” which imparts words of wisdom: “Love and only love will endure/Hate is everything you think it is/Love and only love will break it down.” And then… and then “Powderfinger” ricocheted through the arena. If Patti and band razed the roof, in that moment Neil and the Horse elevated the entire building off the ground and into the stratosphere.

Two Psychedelic Pill songs followed, with the nostalgic “Born in Ontario” giving everyone a chance to breathe before the epic “Walk Like a Giant” elevated the arena again. It’s such a tremendous song, both a boast and a lament, and includes whistling and the aforementioned winding guitar solos and a cacophonous ending that, for me, was perfection. (Diane, for her part, found it a tad much.)

“The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Twisted Road” (a Pill track) and “Singer Without a Song” (a Pill outtake) provided a welcome respite, while the electric “Ramada Inn” showed off Neil’s storytelling and guitar skills. The closing stretch of “Cinnamon Girl,” “F*!#in’ Up,” “Mr Soul “ and Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” sent the arena into orbit…and the lone encore, “Like a Hurricane,” did it again.

The sets: 

Patti: Dancing Barefoot/April Fool/Fuji-san/Beneath the Southern Cross/It’s a Dream/People Have the Power/Horses-Land/Gloria

Neil: Love and Only Love/Powderfinger/Born in Ontario/Walk Like a Giant/The Needle and the Damage Done/Twisted Road/Singer Without a Song/Ramada Inn/Cinnamon Girl/F*!#in’ Up/Mr Soul/Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)//Like a Hurricane

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