in performance: neil young + promise of the real

neil young.

neil young.

“We’re glad Mother Nature is cooperating with us for the time being,” remarked Neil Young last night at Cincinnati’s Riverbend Music Center. Indeed, the evening did a 360 from the storms that ripped through Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley earlier in the day. But while the skies cleared for a spectacular summer evening, the ever-wily Young was brewing up some turmoil of his own.

Backed by the youthful Promise of the Real quintet, the same band that fortifies Young’s wild new protest album The Monsanto Years, the double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee offered a two hour-plus retrospective that moved through the years as readily as it did a series of diverse musical temperaments that reached several epic, electric crescendos with his new performance compatriots.

The program nodded generously to solo tunes, folk ensemble-infused works and torrential rock ‘n’ roll jams. That’s a lot of musical traffic to cover, but Young traveled through it all, at age 69, as tirelessly as the Promise of the Real members, all of which were easily half his age, if not younger.

As opening solo set dispensed with the hits – specifically, After the Gold Rush, Heart of Gold and Old Man – in quick but soulful succession. But the reading of Mother Earth (Natural Anthem) that followed, with Young seated at a portable pipe organ, was a foreshadowing of the environmental and agrochemical strife that sat at the heart of the Monsanto Years music.

Curiously, Young saved six of the seven songs performed from the album for the second half of the show, preferring to preface the new material with midtempo Americana staples like Out on the Weekend and Unknown Legend that would have fit neatly into a Farm Aid set.

Then came the evening’s most potent musical cloudburst, a still-venomous Ohio that Young dedicated to the four students killed four hours away and 45 years ago at Kent State University. “They were,” Young said with pokerfaced candor of the protesting students, “a threat.”

The songs from The Monsanto Years were left to fend for themselves without further commentary, from the whistling reverie of A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop to the corporate greed grind of Big Box (“too big to fail, too rich for jail”).

Bigger noise, however, surrounded three extended romps recovered from three different decades – 1969’s Down By the River, 1972’s Words (Between the Lines of Age) and 1990’s Love and Only Love. Here, Young cut loose with long, jagged guitar runs that delighted the multi-generational audience as well as the Promise of the New disciples onstage with him. Watching co-guitarist Lukas Nelson beam an electric grin as Young traded Black and Decker solos with him during the closing sparks of Down By The River was the Kodak moment of the night.

Perhaps fittingly, as the rumbles of Love and Only Love faded away, the distant thunder of a second band of storms began to brew. Mother Nature, it seemed, didn’t cherish the thought of being upstaged.



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