Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Neil Young with Promise of the Real - London O2, 11th June 2016: concert review

Neil Young IS Rock

I have now seen them all: Crosby, Stills and Nash at Bristol in 2013; Neil Young in London a few days ago. It is like a musical pilgrimage, though nothing like those fans who follow them all, everywhere. I accept that.

Similar to that Bristol gig, it was an emotional experience: all that expectation and what the music reflects of a past, growing up with them collectively as a band of four, and then the solo work, Neil Young coming to my attention really with Everybody Knows This is Nowhere in Putney London where a friend lived and had the album. That album is my favourite, for this historical and therefore nostalgic reason, and the songs. And those songs exemplify the classic Young songwriting mix of acoustic ballads and driving rock, exactly as that reflected in the O2 gig, though Young predominantly rocked the night away.

The O2 gig began when two ‘farmers’ strolled onto the stage, casting seeds. This was followed by Neil himself moving in dark shadow to the piano to open with After the Gold Rush, his voice seemingly unchanged after all these years – perhaps a little worn down in the register, but uniquely his falsetto, and a thrill runs though with the listening. Still placed in shadow as lit from above – his hat casting the dark over his face for some unknown sense of mystery at this early point – he stands and moves to centre stage to be handed his guitar for a rendition of Heart of Gold, vocal and harmonica beautifully clear in the amplification.

It is into the fourth quick visit to these acoustic songs that Neil begins The Needle and the Damage Done, everyone joining in, and I try but choke just as I did at Bristol, an overwrought emotive response to a song I used to sing in my bedroom so many years ago. Silly, and soon overcome.

But the rest of the night was basically supercharged by extended jams with brilliant band Promise of the Real [I have liked as a band and reviewed before here and here] as Neil worked through a selection from a genuine cross-section of albums, the following for the fellow nerds but who probably know them as whole albums much better than me:

After the Gold Rush x 1
Harvest x 5
Harvest Moon x 1
Ragged Glory x 5
Sleeps with Angles x 1
Freedom x 1
Neil Young x 1
On the Beach x 1
The Monsanto Years x 1
Living with War x 1
Earth x 1

And if you like a challenge, perhaps you’d like to match the set list for the night to the albums:

1.      After the Gold Rush
2.      Heart of Gold
3.      From Hank to Hendrix
4.      The Needle and the Damage Done
5.      Mother Earth [Natural Anthem]
6.      Out on the Weekend
7.      Western Hero
8.      Hold Back the Tears
9.      Someday
10.  Alabama
11.  If I Could Have Her Tonight
12.  Words
13.  Walk On
14.  Love to Burn
15.  Mansion on a Hill
16.  Seed Justice
17.  Revolution Blues
18.  Monsanto Years
19.  After the Garden
20.  Love and Only Love
21.  [encore song] F*!#in’ Up

For much of the jamming, Neil had his back to the audience, not in dismissal, but as the band clustered together lost in the rock and psychedelic reverie of the communal guitar playing, Neil leading in his inimitable vibrato and minor chord and other blistering mixes. It was joyous for me. I think most others enjoyed, though I have seen very occasional disparaging comments about, for example, the ‘self-indulgence’ of these jams. I couldn’t agree with the characterising; and Neil has earned the right to do what he pleases. I would understand if some missed more of those sweet acoustic ballads, and I would have enjoyed too, but in the end what we heard was the quite defiant and irrefutable reality that Neil Young IS Rock.  

It was a memorable night, and here I am four days later listening as I type to a recording I made of the set list as it is on record, and I have downloaded every live recording of the gig that have already been posted on YouTube.

A final comment: the beautiful harmonies from the band were astonishingly good.

Acknowledgement to Every record tells a story for pics; excellent review of gig

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