It can get so intimidating to write about Neil Young, I consider him as a monument, and when you see him arrive on stage, you get the impression you are colliding with a mountain of rock & roll history. Tall, wearing a plaid shirt above a black t-shirt that read ‘protect’, a black Fedora hat that casts a shadow on his tough face, he looks like everything you have imagined about Neil Young, he is invincible, stubborn and decided to rock you through the night like a rock warrior with the word epic carved in stone on each one of his massive songs.
What’s the matter with these ageing rockers, Springsteen plays 4-hour long gigs, I just saw Bob Weir and his show lasted 3h and half, but Neil Young didn’t do it any shorter, the concert lasted more than 3 hours too, not that I am complaining, but I wonder what these old guys are on, I am just exhausted to just have driven to Pomona back and forth on a week night!
We are in the middle of a political crisis, we are in the middle of an ecological disaster and there is nobody better than Neil to address this, didn’t he just released ‘Earth’ and ‘The Monsanto Years’? I was hoping for a rant at some point of the show, even a short one, but nothing, not a word. Come on Neil, didn’t Bayer just bought Monsanto and became the biggest threat to humanity ever and you are not saying a thing? Nada… He just delivered a monster song after another without a word about our crumbled world, I bet he doesn’t care because rock & roll can never die and this is the only thing that mattered last night.
This was the first time I was seeing a setlist written on something the size of a signboard, the roadies removed it very fast at the end of the show, ignoring my desperate requests for a photo of the thing. The setlist was huge at the image of all the rest, and when you are 70-year-old Neil Young with such a long career, with too many albums to count, released as yourself, as Neil Young and Crazy Horse, as Buffalo Springfield – and I even pass on his Crosby Stills & Nash episode as he did last night – how do you choose your songs? I have vertigo just to look at the discography and last night, Neil Young covered his long and overwhelming career, playing songs as old as ‘The Loner’ from his self titled 1969 album, or the gently trotting ‘I Am a Child’ from Buffalo Springfield’s 1968 ‘Last Time Around’, many Crazy Horse releases, but also recent tracks like ‘Seed Justice’ from his 2016 release, screaming with an equal rage, ‘Why do I keep fuckin’ up?’, ‘I won’t quit justice’, ‘Show me the love’, while making animal sounds to replace the real ones recorded for ‘Earth’.
There were basically many Neil Youngs, the one playing this monster-sound songs, transformed in long bluesy jazzy endless instrumental jams that his excellent band (Promise of the Real, featuring Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah who was wearing a Sonic Youth t-shirt) was stretching 10 or 15 minutes, turning ‘Like an Inca’ into a Santana-style psychedelia or bringing anger and aggressiveness during ‘Fuckin’ Up’. There were the shorter songs like the beloved ‘Cinnamon Girl’, the less known ‘If I Could Have Her Tonight’ still delivered with melodious aggression and swagger, there were these floating-in-the-ether electric guitar solos, these almost prog-rock numbers with long intros slowly building a big sound before the sudden arrival of the vocals, ‘Cortez the Killer’ worked like this. Of course there also was harmonica-man Neil Young, a more folksy side of him, singing earworms-y foot-tapping campfire songs, like ‘Human Highway’ or ‘From Hank to Hendrix’… There were even songs unknown to me, making him drop his guitar and get a mic plus harmonica in one hand,… ever heard of ‘Show Me’ and ‘Neighborhood’ and ‘Texas Rangers? Well it’s because some of them were new and a bit unusual.
There were so many songs, so many I knew, so many I didn’t know, but who can pretend to know the million of songs Neil Young has written? Probably a few people who were around me and who sounded like die-hard fans, ferociously defending their spot in the pit.
Most of the time, it was one massive riff after another and during these long rocking instrumentals, you could tell Neil and the band had the best of time, it was the only moments the old rocker would have a full-teeth smile and I had to wonder, were they pleasing the crowd or themselves or both? And Neil didn’t care if he was turning his back to the audience most of the time, they were delivering the boldest, the most aggressive pieces of rock a man can do, the type of number you never see the end of, when distorted guitars piles up and up, when you think, this song has to be the grand finale, but you realize this is just the second or the third song of the show… Many songs could have been the end of the show, but he kept going and going like the tireless rock machine he is, and at the end the show did sound like the epic guitar battle, with mountain-like proportions that this barrage of old white guys in front of me seemed to enjoy the most… don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed the show, but, I insist, not a word about politics or Monsanto? Not even a Pono plug? I thought that GM foods, corporate greed and shattered rural economy were in his mind… Neil must have thought his songs were speaking for themselves, although he didn’t sing anything from ‘The Monsanto Years’, but it was intimidating enough to hear someone play all these classics, or scream ‘I won’t quit/bring back seed justice to the land’…
In the middle of ‘Peace Trail’, a guy standing next to me decided it was the right time to vomit on everyone around, he did not really decide as he even fell down drunk and exhausted. So we had to listen to the rest of the show with our feet glued to the sticky floor covered by his vomit… ‘Rock and roll can never die’ indeed. The band left and came back for an encore ending with this pure rock, rarely performed, number ‘Piece of Crap’, delivered with an almost punk rage and as I was stepping on a lot of crap myself, it sounded perfect.
From heavy to rootsy, from multi-part harmonies to Neil alone with his guitar, they covered a lot and Promise of the Real made every moment memorable, Neil Young probably can’t save the planet but he has saved rock & roll for every generation.
Like an Inca
When You Dance, I Can Really Love
Cortez the Killer
From Hank to Hendrix
Peace of Mind
I Am a Child
Words (Between the Lines of Age)
If I Could Have Her Tonight
Cowgirl in the Sand
I’ve Been Waiting for You
Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
Roll Another Number (For the Road)
Piece of Crap
Less push, More flow
350 rock critics, wannabe rock critics, or people with OCD
a new Tupac Shakur exhibit opening downtown LA
a pop LP that isn’t popular is a question mark…
her mama don’t like you and she likes everyone…
the riffs have never been so heavy
I bet Sub Pop were overjoyed as well
“begs you not to sit in the difficult moments”
the names aren’t as eye popping for music