With the Jim Jarmusch-directed Neil Young documentary “The Year of the Horse” premiering across town, it wasn’t all that tough to guess what band billed as “Hippie Dream” was suddenly scheduled to play San Francisco’s Trocadero. By 3 p.m., the rumors had been confirmed, and at 9 p.m., the newly-minted movie stars took the stage of the 600-person-capacity club.
Looking like the antithesis of a Hollywood opening night in a black T-shirt and ripped jeans, Young quickly established an anything-goes mood with a rollicking version of “Hard Luck Stories,” a synth-driven song from 1986’s “Landing on Water.” He stopped the second song, a new one, three times before the Horse settled into the groove. But by the third, “I’m the Ocean,” Young was smiling, and in all his ragged glory.
Perhaps inspired by the intimate atmosphere, Young skipped warhorses like “Cortez the Killer” and “Like a Hurricane” in favor of newer songs such as “Crime in the City” and “Slip Away.” About an hour into the show, he delivered the punch line to the night’s insider joke with a raucous version of “Hippie Dream” that had many in the crowd high-fiving each other for being lucky enough to attend the secret show.
The high-fives gave way to confused stares when the house lights went on soon after that, and some had already started for the door when a stagehand announced, “They’ll be right back.” After a brief intermission, the band returned with an incendiary “Hey, Hey My, My.” Curiously, Young repeated “Throw Your Hatred Down” and a new tune that he had already played in the first set, but Crazy Horse galloped through them with even more energy than they had an hour before.
The small venue didn’t make Young any less taciturn than usual, but the crowd wasn’t at a loss for suggestions when he abruptly asked for requests. Though calls for “Powderfinger” were heard above the din, Young opted for the obscure “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” keeping with the concert’s move away from the expected greatest hits. The song originally appeared on “Life,” the last album he released on Geffen, which sued him for not sticking close enough to his trademark sound. But Young and the 600 attendees enjoyed the last laugh: “People tell us that we play too loud / But they don’t know what our music’s about / We never listen to the record company man / They try to change us and ruin our band / That’s why we don’t wanna be good / That’s why we don’t wanna be good / We’re prisoners of rock and roll.”