Neil Young + Promise Of The Real – October 5, 2015 – Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC
Neil Young’s New and Old World Keeps Spinning Round
Last year, Neil Young joined other musicians and artists and embarked on the Blue Dot Tour with David Suzuki. The purpose of that 20-city tour across Canada was to start a national conversation and movement to make sure we all look after this land that gives us so much. It was also thirty years ago that a benefit concert known as Farm Aid germinated. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young made this possible. Money raised would help American farmers in danger of losing their farms through mortgage debt.
Neil has been particularly politically active of late with the release of The Monsanto Years late last June, but his campaign against big corporations didn’t stop there. He also released a 10-minute documentary “Seeding Fear: The Story of Michael White vs Monsanto”. This campaign continued in Vancouver with his new band, The Promise of the Real. The concert was originally scheduled for the smaller Queen Elizabeth Theatre, but was moved to Rogers Arena (half venue in use) where it was also being filmed for archiving purposes. Neil’s new world consists of Promise of the Real, Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah on vocals and guitar, Anthony Logerfo on drums, Corey McCormick on bass and vocals, and Tato Melgar on percussion. Neil Young performed last year for David Suzuki’s Blue Dot Tour stop in Vancouver.
The show opened with two women dressed as farmers sowing the stage and fans in the front row with seeds. Neil then took the stage alone. Wearing a worn and battered dark grey fedora, the same colour palate in an unbuttoned long sleeved shirt rolled up his forearms and a t-shirt underneath. The word “EARTH” in white stood out across his chest. Neil sat down at the dark earthy brown upright piano; harmonica hanging from his neck. The spellbinding opening notes to “After the Gold Rush” filled the air, the lyrics updated to “Look at mother nature on the run in the twenty-first century”.
Continuing with “Heart of Gold”, “Comes a Time” and “Helpless”, it was like reliving an updated version of 1979’s “Live Rust” album with added harvest and déjà vu. There’s so much nostalgia in the lyrics of “Helpless” and hearing “there is a town in North Ontario”. There’s no one better with an acoustic guitar and harmonica than Neil Young.
The same two women who had sowed the stage earlier would appear five songs later in hazmat suits, spraying the stage with pesticide as the crowd booed and jeered.
Twenty minutes into the two and a half hour show and preceding the song “Mother Earth”, Neil Young took the microphone to tell the 9,000 plus sharecroppers, “I would like to thank you for coming here and putting down your dollars. A 100 grand from this show goes to the Blue Dot Organization. It’s a simple idea that we’re all entitled to as Canadians, the right to drink clean water and breathe good air, and have the same association to that is part of our constitution. It’s a great idea. I’m glad to be supporting it with your help. Thank you very much.”
The harmonica intro to “Out on the Weekend” started before it was stopped abruptly. “Hold it, hold it. Wait. Wait" Neil yelled. "Sorry about that. I hate it when notes don’t work”. Grabbing a harmonica in the A key and continuing, “It’s so business ... no, it’s so business. Give it to the crowd. Give it to them. It always worked for Elvis”. The first harmonica tossed in the first few rows. The harmonica intro replayed once more, the acoustic guitar followed and soon after, “See the lonely boy, out on the weekend”. Perfection. This song was followed by the musical chills of “From Hank to Hendrix”, again with mouth organ and acoustic. The night continued with back to back moons of old and new in Harvest and Wolf, respectively.
You won’t find any information on The Monsanto Years in this year’s Old Farmer’s Almanac, only references to autumnal harvest moons. The newest album comes 23 years after “Harvest Moon” which came 20 years after “Harvest”. Unlike “Harvest Moon” which was a sequel to “Harvest”, the new album is not a sequel to any album.
Most of the newer songs from “The Monsanto Years” weaved in nicely halfway into the evening, especially “Big Box”, where even Neil and the Young boys were too big to fail. This epic 8-minute song had that “Rockin’ in the Free World” vibe. It was like having one of Neil’s Lionel locomotives coming to life, the sound and tone from all of those steel strings (3 electric guitars and bass guitar) rolling as 350 tons of steel, the brakes not working and the grade too steep.
The extended guitar workouts would continue for the last hour of the concert between five songs, starting with “Cowgirl in the Sand” where Lukas and Micah interplayed with Neil’s blazing electric guitar just like Danny Whitten did in the early 70s as a member of Crazy Horse and where Corey (bass) and Anthony (drums) got into as much of a groove as Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina did with the Horse.
Travelling from farm to farm with “Workin’ Man” followed, the lyrics changing from “A working man in Indiana travelled from farm to farm” to “A working man in Manitoba travelled from farm to farm”.
“Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” with its childlike vocals and boyish harmonies with “la la la” has withstood the test of time after all these years.
Neil Young waged heavy peace in ending the evening with more musical chills with 1990’s Ragged Glory 10-minute “Love and Only Love” expanded to 17 minutes, interspersed a couple of times with imposing, electrifying guitar. ABSOLUTELY MESMERIZING.
The encore would consist of one song, again from the excellent “Ragged Glory”, the 7-minute opening track “Country Home”.
On this very special night. Neil did get it together and stood side by side with Willie’s boys. They made the night last like a musical ride.
After the Gold Rush
Heart of Gold
Comes a Time Helpless (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Hold Back the Tears
Out on The Weekend
From Hank to Hendrix
Words (Between the Lines Of Age)
A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop
People Want to Hear About Love
Cowgirl in the Sand
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Love and Only Love