Concert Review of the Moment: Cincinnati, OH - Neil Young + Promise of the Real, July 11, 2015
"Words" - Neil Young + Promise of the Real, Cincinnati, OH - July 11, 2015
The Concert Review of the Moment is Cincinnati, OH - Neil Young + Promise of the Real, July 11, 2015 by Genghis Kon.
Here is my review of the show, forgive me for its length.
July 13th. The big day had finally come. After waiting for months, anticipation growing, the day was finally here. At 17, I would see my first concert, and even more importantly, I would also see Neil Young and Promise Of The Real. My dad (a fellow fan) and I made the trek to Cincinnati in the morning. We listened to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere on the way, and after eating at the Boathouse, the Precinct, and visiting the Newport Aquarium to pass the time, the moment had come, and we arrived at the Riverbend.
We filed in amongst many other fans, and I purchased two of the t-shirts, both adorned with tractors and anti-GMO symbols. It felt strange when I sat down dead center in Row F; "Am I really gonna be this close?" I wondered in awe (Ticketmaster is a living, breathing entity. It cannot be manipulated, and sometimes grants mercy, as with us). After the roadies tuned everything up, Band Of Horses came out and played a short set. Their performance was very good, but they were very loud, and my virgin ears were not quite ready for that level of sound, so I put in some earplugs. Thankfully, I could still hear pretty well. After a thank you to the audience, BoH left the stage, and introduced another man (forgive me, I don't remember his name). The man was a Native American, and spoke of how Rio Tinto and John McCain are mining on their land (reservations, I think), and had us join in a moment of Native American song. After all of this, he thanked Neil for having him here, and finished his speech.
"This is it. The big man is coming" I thought to myself, suddenly feeling very stiff. The roadies did their job, and the women in farming clothes came out, sprinkling seeds all over the stage. At this point, I had taken out my earplugs, and they would remain in my pocket for the rest of the show. As the women began to part to the side of the stage, I saw a familiar black hat glide behind the equipment, and sit down behind the piano. A choir of cheers erupted from the audience. In the distance, I heard the faint sound of the opening chords of After The Gold Rush ring out, but there was a problem with the sound. Suddenly, like a beacon from a lighthouse in a violent storm, Neil faded into earshot. The crowd went wild as he sang the first lyrics, and though I may have just been imagining this, there was a moment where he looked up from the shadow cast by his hat, and I swear, I saw a glint in his eye, and we briefly made eye contact. I'm sure everyone at a concert has had this experience, and I felt paralyzed. It just seemed so strange that he was actually up there and so close. I wasn't just watching a movie anymore, this was it.
After an excellent performance, Neil switched over to his well-worn D-28 (Hank, I believe). More cheers greeted a wise sounding Heart of Gold. "It's these expressions, I try to give" Neil sang, modifying the lyrics, and changing the meaning of the song somewhat significantly, at least in my mind.
Neil switched over to his other D-28, and briefly had an issue plugging it in, where the electronics weren't responding properly. After this quick malfunction, he began playing Old Man. Though it was played in a whole step down, that didn't make a difference. I could only think to myself that his voice seemed so strong tonight, it was mind-boggling!
Testing his harmonica, Neil strode over to his old pump organ, and played a beautiful, wistful version of Mother Earth. His message was really starting to become clear here, and this would continue throughout the show.
Suddenly, gas was sprayed across the stage. A few men in hazmat suits walked about, obliterating the seeds with pesticides. The lights dimmed, and out of the haze, Neil was suddenly not alone: Lukas Nelson and Corey McCormick stood to his left, Micah Nelson to his right, and behind him, Anthony Logerfo and Tato Melgar. The ever-iconic intro to Out On The Weekend began playing, and I became ecstatic. It was absolutely stunning, one of the highlights of the show. Micah seemed to be channeling his inner Jimmy Page, dragging a bow across his strings. He and Lukas seemed to be simulating Ben's steel parts, and were doing a fine job of it. Micah proved to be a versatile rhythm player, who added an extra layer to all of the songs that were played. Serene and sad as always, the song continued to unfold. Promise Of The Real gave it their all on backing vocals, and they sounded great. The crowd joined Neil, and we sang along gleefully.
Neil switched harmonicas, and thanked the crowd for coming. He wisecracked that "Mother nature is cooperating with us for the time being", alluding to the severe storms that had just hit earlier. He sprung effortlessly into Unknown Legend. "Somewhere on a desert highway, she rides a Harley-Davidson, her long blonde hair flying in the wind" Neil sang, and once again, the audience joined, some humorously pointing towards the stage on the "Harley-Davidson" line.
Continuing into the second Harvest Moon song of the night, Neil whipped out From Hank To Hendrix. His voice was still in fine shape. The singalong potential was brilliant, and the lyrics were more relevant than ever.
The first new song of the night, Neil began playing Wolf Moon. Though it had seemed somewhat sterile on the album, here, it rang with an honest beauty, and impressed the audience. The song is just so pleasant, there was nothing you could do other than enjoy it.
Suddenly, everything seemed to freeze. Did I just see a technician bring out the White Falcon? Neil pulled the strap over his shoulder, and began strumming three familiar chords. Suddenly, it exploded into Words, and the audience, appropriately, was overjoyed. The song was as intense as always, and violent flurries of electric guitar burst through the air around me. Neil converged on Lukas, and they formed the classic "Crazy Horse huddle" and they began soloing aggressively. Lukas is really starting to impress me. Very good guitarist.
Neil stepped up to the mic, and gave a speech about four students, who were "actively engaged" and "stood up to the government". Everyone knew what this meant. The Riverbend was splintered by the erupting grit of Ohio, which quickly grew in power like the roots of a willow tree. The performance really hit home with me. Though I did not ever live to experience the slaying of those students (I wasn't even close, a few decades off), I live right down the road from Kent State, tucked between Akron and Cleveland. The song was incredibly emotionally charged, and I began chanting the lyrics with everyone else, many of whom were (obviously) fellow Ohioans. I felt my blood boil in a way it never has, and I felt like I was a part of the music, living this nightmare. What an experience.
Man, I needed a break after that last song. In a rumble of guitar, a chorus of whistles pierced the air, and A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop was underway. Here, I realized the song was EXTREMELY catchy, and the song's chorus (Monnnn-Sannnnn-Tooooo) was irresistible. I quickly found myself singing along (by the way, I'm never the type to sing along).
Next, Neil played People Want To Hear About Love. Another song from Monsanto Years, I found it to really shine live as well. The riff almost reminds me of Country Home, but the song differs greatly otherwise. Monsanto Years is really starting to grow on me.
Without word, Neil and POTR lunged into a searing version of Down By The River. On the way to the show, I listened to Down By The River with Crazy Horse from the Fillmore East 1970, and I dare say this performance trumped it. My jaw dropped to the floor when Lukas just cut loose. His soloing had a strange quality in that he would grab for the high frets of his sharp looking Strat, with natural finish, and just shred away. He's more of a technical player than Neil. Not only that, but it was just so loud, I had never heard anything like it. All of this gave it a very ethereal quality. Lukas is turning out to be one of the best guitarists I've ever seen. Some people have observed that Lukas can potentially fill the late, great Danny Whitten's shoes, and I can see it! Down By The River just kept ascending and ascending, reaching heights I didn't think were possible. The chorus shook the Riverbend every time, and then the soloing recommenced. One of the most exhilarating moments of the night.
I had been looking forward to this one. With a streak of juvenile energy, the band tore into Working Man. One of my favorites off Monsanto Years, the song charges forward with an energy and melody much akin to Time Fades Away. I found myself clapping along and swaying to the music as Neil continued his crusade to tarnish the name of Monsanto. Neil threw his harmonica off stage without a care as to where it went. I wonder who got it. Right around here, one man who sat near us leaned over to me, and yelled "You're very lucky to be here! It's really good for you that you're here!" I laughed, and could only agree. All in all, a very fun song with a serious message.
And just like that, they catapult into what is likely the best song off of Monsanto Years: Big Box. The song runs with a serious Restless Consumer vibe. It is incredibly foreboding with the haunting chorus "Too big to fail, too rich for jail", followed by a riff that I find very similar to Pushed It Over The End, handled perfectly by Lukas.
It is here that I need to mention the other members. Corey McCormick is a fine bassist with great stage presence. He almost reminds me of Billy Talbot in that sense (I'll stop with the Horse comparisons): he jumps around the stage, bangs his head to the music (doesn't have the rubber band neck like Talbot, though!), and by the end, sweat was pouring from his snapback cap. Anthony Logerfo is a very high energy drummer. He could hold the beat fantastically, and made the venue shake with his fills. Tato Melgar seemed content to avoid the limelight. He sat to the left of Logerfo, and provided flourishes of percussion on his bongos, as well as other embellishments. The whole band is incredibly qualified, and deserve their position next to Neil, for sure.
To the pleasure of the crowd, Neil plowed through a jubilant version of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Sounding great as always, he sang with a smile on his face the lyrics he knows so well by now. My only criticism is that the backing vocals here (the la-la-las) seemed a little scrambled, but the audience filled in enough for it to get by without much of an issue at all. Another old classic that we all enjoyed as much as Neil and the band.
The title track of Monsanto Years was the next song to be played. In my opinion, this is the only MY track that kind of dragged along. Overbearing at times, the aggressive nature of the song made me a little uncomfortable, even amidst the other MY songs. However, that's not to say it wasn't punctuated by moments of brilliance, riffs and solos thrown at the audience by Lukas.
Drastically lightening the mood, Neil performed the captivating If I Don't Know. Borrowing an old term from Jimmy Page, this song seems to utilize a lot of "light and shade". Lyrics that projected imagery of nature and its leafy touch gave way to morbid descriptions of dams and other threats, as the chords created a vertigo inducing sensation of falling down a bottomless pit, tumbling towards oblivion. One of the best songs from MY.
The other shows seemed to draw a bit from Ragged Glory, and finally Neil assaults the audience with a crushing version of Love And Only Love. The song announced its presence with a savage eruption of frenzied soloing. At this point in the show, I now realized I was being concussed by the sound, and to be honest, I didn't care. The soloing was very strange, though. It became so loud, that I felt it like lightening. Like streaks of electricity shooting jaggedly though the Riverbend and my ears, my cochleae felt like they caved in. It was an indescribable sensation, and the electricity metaphor is the best I can possibly do. The song signaled a rave up by the band. Lukas threw off his hat, and began swinging his head wildly, his hair flying every which way. He even pulled a Hendrix, and started playing with his teeth, creating mass hysteria in the audience. Finally, after the band pulled a ton of false endings, they finished the last song of the set. The band grouped together, took a bow, and walked off.
Of course, the audience didn't stop cheering. "What will he play?" I wondered. Ideas bounced around in my head. Danger Bird? Revolution Blues? Thrasher? When he returned to the stage, the audience continued its roars, and Neil, with true honesty in his voice, thanked Cincinnati, as well as everyone for attending. The band set up, and fired into the immortal classic, Cinnamon Girl. The song was perfect, right down to the iconic one note solo. As Neil reaches the final coda, he steps towards the audience and raises his arms, prompting everyone to do so as well, an ocean of shaking hands. After one last blast from the band, they all lower their instruments. For the last time of the night, they bow out, and wave as the band exits the stage, and the lights dim, and then come back up, revealing an empty stage.
The performances of all the members were outstanding. Everyone had a moment to shine. Not detracting from anyone's performance, especially Neil's, I must say that Lukas was a real standout. He had a giant's shoes to fill, yet somehow he did it, and then some. I would give anything to see these guys play together again.
Driving back home with my dad, the one thing I can hear in my head, aside from the ringing of my ears, is that man whose words really stuck with me. I was really lucky to be there. Not just that, but I'm very lucky to be a Neil Young as well. Nothing could have rivaled what I saw yesterday. I finally fulfilled my dream of seeing one of my heroes live. This day will forever be ingrained in my mind.
(Once again, sorry for the long post!)
Thanks Genghis Kon! Awesome review & vids.