So what’s still to say about Neil Young? He co-founded Buffalo Springfield, hooked up with Crosby, Stills & Nash, released dozens of studio albums and almost single handedly laid the foundations of the grunge rock sound. At the age of 70, Young is one of the few musicians of old that is still going strong. Last saturday Don Grungio visited The Netherlands as part of his European tour with Promise of the Real and naturally, we traveled to Amsterdam to see the good man at work.
I reckon in advance nobody really cared about Young’s backing band, Promise of the Real (POTR), last night but before kicking off this review it would be nice to say something about them. The band, which is centred around Willie Nelson’s sons Lucas and Micah started when Lucas (vocals/lead guitar) met Anthony LoGerfo (drums) at a Neil Young concert in 2007. After various gigs as supporting act for, indeed, daddy Nelson, POTR recorded a few studio albums that are influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. Unfortunately this never resulted in mainstream success but was noticed by Neil Young who saw potential in the youngsters and asked them to collaborate on 2015’s protest record The Monsanto Years. From that moment on the POTR serves as Young’s backing band and got their name printed on the Rebel Content Tour tickets as well.
At 5 past 8, three men dressed like farm hands entered the stage and began throwing seeds around. The theatrics show that Young was never just a singer but he is a singer with an environmental mission. In the darkness of the stage a spotlight turned on Neil Young sitting at an old piano singing ‘After the Gold Rush’. Again he stresses his environmental worries by changing the words in this classic to: “Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 21st century”. The crowd was delighted and cheered even harder after Young stepped away from the piano and started an acoustic version ‘Heart of Gold’. The Ziggo Dome turned into a hall of smartphone galore as almost everyone tried get a glimpse of the living legend hiding under a black hat and wearing his “EARTH” T-shirt. After all these years the song still sounds majestic. Hereafter the solo set continued with ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, a touching ode to the late Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten who died of an overdose in the 70s, ‘Razor Love’ and the organ filled ‘Mother Earth’. The quiet beginning of the show is fairly standard during this tour so when it comes to the setlist there were little surprises, however it did show Young was in an excellent form tonight.
The three men returned on stage, this time dressed in protective suits and began to fake-spray pesticides on stage. For Promise of the Real this was the cue to get on stage. With a full band surrounding him Young took a rootsy trip down memory lane playing songs from Harvest (1972), American Stars ‘n Bars (1977) through Harvest Moon (1992). For me tearjerker, ‘Unknown Legend’ was the high point in this part of the set. The story about a girl breaking free from a life full of caring for others was played in almost perfect harmony. It got me and 17,000 others to a magical standstill. Hints of more uptempo rock songs came into play on Crazy Horse songs like ‘Love to Burn’. However it almost seemed POTR was ready to increase the volume even more but Young was holding them back by returning to the more monotonous songs from the Crazy Horse catalogue. Especially ‘Mansion on the Hill’ and the dull chorus of ‘Change Your Mind’ took too long to complete.
Of course POTR got what they have hoped for, because with ‘Seed Justice’ the show’s final act was kicked in an old fashioned heartland rock style. Carried by his young fellows Young proves that being 70 years old is not an excuse to sit on one’s hands. Band and singer increasingly pumped up the tempo on the high-strung ‘Revolution Blues’ and sloganeering on ‘Monsanto Years’. Eventually the hands of the audience went in the air to a 10-minute version of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ that was topped off with some droning and, as if that wasn’t enough, an even longer version of ‘Love and Only Love’ fused with brilliant guitar solos wrapped up the main part of the show.
After a short goodbye Young and POTR returned for the encore which was less exciting in terms of heartland rock but did brought a feeling of resignation over the venue. From his first solo album after his departure from Buffalo Springfield in ‘68, Neil Young left us with a fragile performance of ‘Here We Are in the Years’ on which he sings: “Now that the holidays have come. They can relax and watch the sun. Rise above all of the beautiful things they’ve done”. With this, he seems to complete the circle, foreshadowing on a retirement by retreating to the slow life of the country. On the other hand, there are no direct signs yet for Young’s possible retirement in the near future. I mean in the past years he divorced his wife, remarried his actress girlfriend, wrote a few books, recorded new albums, took on the youngsters of POTR as his new backing band, and moreover, played for three-and-a-half hours last night.
So let’s keep things simple and just thank Neil Young and Promise of the Real for a truly wonderful evening.
- After the Gold Rush
- Heart of Gold
- The Needle and the Damage Done
- Razor Love
- Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
- Out on the Weekend
- Hold Back the Tears
- Human Highway
- Unknown Legend
- Words (Between the Lines of Age)
- Love to Burn
- Mansion on the Hill
- Change Your Mind
- Don’t Be Denied
- Western Hero
- Seed Justice
- Revolution Blues
- Monsanto Years
- Rockin’ in the Free World
- Love and Only Love
- Like an Inca
- Here We Are in the Years
Neil Young – lead vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica, piano, organ
Lukas Nelson (POTR) – backing vocals, rhythm guitar
Micah Nelson (POTR) – backing vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, keyboard
Corey McCormick (POTR) – backing vocals, bass
Anthony Logerfo (POTR) – drums
Tato Melgar (POTR) – percussion
Neil Young official site
Promise of the Real official site
Review by Wander Meulemans // 100716