AS A crowd-pleasing encore for a bunch of classic rock fans, you really couldn’t ask for more than a double whammy of top drawer Neil Young.
Rich Robinson has always been quick to doff his cap to the greats of rock’n’roll and the climax to this solo show saw him play crackling versions of Down By The River and Cinnamon Girl.
With his band the Black Crowes now on indefinite hiatus, Robinson has been reluctantly forced centre stage to go it alone and take on the frontman duties usually reserved for his brother Chris. A natural showman Rich is not – nor never pretends to be – preferring to let his guitar playing do the vast majority of the talking.
Blending material from his two solo albums plus a choice of semi-obscure covers, this two-hour set was a rather mixed bag; there were times it all fell flat and tiptoed into muso, noodling self-indulgence.
Early highlights though were the Santana-like fluidity of It’s Not Easy and a cover of early days Fleetwood Mac’s heavy blues Station Man.
A funky version of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On boasted a crackling solo from Robinson and the slow-burning (ahem) Standing On The Surface Of The Sun made for an anthemic mid-point burst of melody. The Stonesy bar room swagger of Falling Again played to the band’s strengths as did a stomping performance of I Don’t Hear The Sound Of You from his new record Through A Crooked Sun.
Robinson’s bassist Brian Allen tried his best to look interested playing a three-note refrain for the overlong instrumental from Sixties experimental Krautrock band Agitation Free (no, me neither…) and another cover of a track by blues rock heavyweights War dragged, too. Bye Bye Baby also buckled under the weight of excessive soloing.
If you leave the venue after seeing one of the finest guitarist of the last 20 years and a sterling three-piece backing band musing on just what a great songwriter Neil Young is, something must have got lost along the way. Perhaps a smidgeon more showmanship next time please, Rich?
In a career that’s spanned 45 years and more than 30 studio albums - just how do you go about assembling a setlist that does justice to Neil Young?
OK, so we can discount most of the 80’s when he lost his mojo and briefly flirted with synthesizers, but that still leaves a Mount Everest-sized cliff face of great work to clamber over. For my money, even Young’s biggest rivals like Dylan, Springsteen and Lennon and McCartney all come up short over the long haul.
Five-piece tribute band Heart of Rust rose to the challenge admirably though, cannily merging shoe-in choices with relative obscurities for the die-hards.
And they were equally fine at showing both sides of Young’s persona - the gnarly Crazy Horse rock hero and the delicate folk troubadour.
David James had Young’s distinctive nasally, shaky vocals down to a tee as well as his nasty, overdriven Gibson electric sound.
They kicked off in reflective mode, with the nostalgic Buffalo Springfield Again and two prime cuts from his most commercially successful album, Harvest - Old Man and Out On The Weekend, the latter boasting a sweet pedal steel solo from Yi Vei Kok in the Ben Keith role. Bassist Tony Fitzpatrick took over on vocal duties for Helpless before the band turned the guitars up and blasted out the still-powerful Ohio and Southern Man, which found James channelling his hero’s soloing style like he was wrestling with an electric eel.
Second half selections went more off piste and included Don’t Be Denied, Roll Another Number (For The Road) and a brave stab at the frazzled Mellow My Mind.
Of course, no Young tribute would be complete without a little self-indulgent jamming and the band got their opportunity to stretch out with Cortez The Killer and Down By The River. Young himself, has been known to start those songs clean shaven and finish with a full beard.
As curfew passed, James came full circle and squeezed in an unamplified version of Young’s Sugar Mountain, penned when the songwriter was just 19. Five decades on, he’s still casting a spell over us.