Five weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy tore through the New Jersey shore. On Thursday night, Neil Young and his band tore through a high-energy set at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in an effort to help those whose lives were impacted by the storm.
Young and Crazy Horse were in fine form during their set at Borgata's Event Center, performing a show that mixed favorites from Young's impressive catalog with new tracks from "Psychedelic Pill" - an impressive new two-disc set that shows the 67-year-old Canadian rocker and his favorite backup band are still pursuing their craft with passion and creativity.
Young opened his set with a blistering 15-minute jam on the new song "Love and Only Love" and then treated fans to an equally high-energy rendition of "Powder-finger."
"Thanks to you, we made a quarter of a million dollars tonight," Young told the crowd during an early break in the music, thanking his fans for coming out to support the hurricane recovery effort.
Dressed in a flannel shirt with his long, thin hair whipping around his head, Young let his music do most of the talking in a concert that featured a series of crowd-pleasing extended jams.
Young and Crazy Horse had some help in the show. Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, a native of Princeton, played a 50-minute acoustic set before Young and Crazy Horse took the stage. Anastasio, who visited beaches in Sea Girt and Point Pleasant when growing up, told the crowd he jumped at the chance to play the show.
"It's really good to be here tonight. I thank you all for being here," he said.
Alt-country band Everest opened the show.
Young, whose musical career has included stints in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Buffalo Springfield, has often spoken about his special musical bond with Crazy Horse, with whom he has toured and recorded on-and-off since the late 1960s.
On Thursday, it was easy to see why Young treasures the relationship on stage, as he seemed to feed off the energy generated by guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina.
The benefit show came together quickly, with Young's performance coming just a week after it was announced he would be playing the benefit at Borgata.
Young and the band donated their time and crew, while the casino donated the production costs. Joe Lupo, senior vice president for operations at Borgata, said the casino's close relationship with concert promoters Live Nation made it possible to pull the show together so quickly.
"What we got done in a week was just amazing. It really took off. It was the combination of a rock and roll legend and hurricane relief. It is a great opportunity to see him for a good cause," Lupo said.
Lupo said he couldn't yet put a price on how much the casino spent on the concert.
The show comes at the end of a busy year for Young. "Psychedelic Pill" is his second disc this year with Crazy Horse. Earlier, they released "Americana," which mostly featured their rocking takes on classic American songs such as "Oh Susannah," "This Land Is Your Land" and "Clementine."
Young also published "Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream," a rambling, idiosyncratic and endearing memoir. He's also deeply involved in ongoing projects to promote fuel-efficient hybrid cars and a new, high-quality digital audio player called Pono. This is a guy who doesn't have a lot of down time.
Young is the first major music star to play a Sandy benefit in southern New Jersey, but he is not the first performer to help the recovery effort. Country singer Carrie Underwood donated her payment for a Nov. 9 show at Boardwalk Hall while Wanda Sykes said she'd donate part of the payment she received for two shows at Borgata last month.
Daryl Hall and John Oates played Borgata in November and said they were donating their fee, while Caesars Entertainment rallied NHL hockey players for a benefit hockey game at Boardwalk Hall.
Young said he was inspired to do the show in Atlantic City after being asked to participate in a star-studded Sandy benefit at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12. Young couldn't make the show, and so began looking for another way to help the relief effort.
He's currently touring in support of "Psychedelic Pill," but did not have a show planned for the resort.
The show attracted Young fans of all ages and from various locales. Mary Ellen Lohin and Jim Freeman, of Newton, Pa., travelled to Atlantic City for the night. The pair planned to get up at 6 a.m. to return to their jobs Friday at Bucks County Community College, but they felt the trip was worth it.
"He loves Neil Young, and it's a benefit. It seemed like the right thing to do," said Lohin, 50.
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