Largo -- Anyone who remembers Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel and his amplifiers that went up to 11 ("It's One Louder Than Ten" he'd explain) would have appreciated the look and sound of Neil Young's show at the Capital Centre last night. It wasn't just that Young had decked the stage with towering amps, including a pair of Fender Bassman cabinets 12 feet high; he also made sure his massive props were accompanied by an equally outsized sound.
From the moment he and his backing band, Crazy Horse, hit the stage, the audience was awash in electric thunder. It went beyond loud; it was heavy and thick, as dense as cream cheese and solid enough to sit in. It was a sound to be gloried in, and glory they did with Young opening up every song for extended soloing.
Of course, it needs to be mentioned that Young's idea of a solo bears little resemblance to standard-issue guitar heroics.
Instead of flashy displays of fret-board athletics, Young's instrumental forays dug deep into the heart of his songs, chasing melody into a maelstrom of feedback and distortion.
Consequently, it wasn't what he played so much as how. "Cinnamon Girl," for instance, was given a lean, simple solo that perfectly matched the innocence of the melody. But the extended sections of "Crime in the City" rambled and raged along with the lyric, while "F*!# in' Up" stumbled along as the text would lead you to imagine.
Sonic Youth, on the other hand, kept its sound almost constantly on edge. That's not to say that the band was without a melodic side -- "Kool Thing" was certainly catchy in its abrasive way -- just that the group was perfectly happy to pursue noise as an end in itself.
But what a wonderful end it was. Although some songs, such as "Dirty Boots," played the band's guitar firestorm for sheer aural energy, the set-closing "Expressway to YR Skull" was Sonic Youth's masterwork. The song was a dense symphony of sound that exploited its sense of pacing and dynamics to their fullest.