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Friday, July 10, 2015

Reflections on Red Rocks: Neil Young + Promise of the Real, July 8 & 9, 2015

Neil Young + Promise of the Real
Photos by thrashette (except as noted)
(Click photo to enlarge)

Here are a few random reflections on just seeing two nights of Neil Young + Promise of the Real at Red Rocks: Morrison, CO, July 8 & 9, 2015.

This was our first time seeing concerts at the legendary venue, which is a geologically natural amphitheater -- that is simply spectacular -- in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. So the real star of every show is the venue itself, which did not disappoint with pristine acoustics and spectacular views. Truly a dream to experience a Neil Young concert in this sort of setting.

And we even saw a rainbow just before the 2nd night show!

Red Rocks Rainbow

The opening act Band of Horses did a nice job warming up each evening and seemed to be thrilled with the opportunity to open for Neil + The Real.

Band of Horses

As the sun was setting behind heavy clouds, we could see the sky about to rain, but the weather held off for night #1. The concert opens with two women spreading seeds across the stage and watering flowers. And the the next thing you know is Neil is sitting at the piano playing "After The Gold Rush", the first of five well known and loved solo songs. So right from the beginning of the setlist, Neil takes care of those who came for the "hits".

Heart of Gold

The solo portion concludes with "Mother Earth" on the pump organ, which sets out the theme of the evening of environmental consciousness. And just to drive the point home on anyone who was missing was about to come, Neil is suddenly enveloped in clouds of "pesticides" by roadies in HAZMAT suits spraying fog all about the stage. A clever piece of theatrics and continuing a long tradition getting the crew in on the fun.

Bad Fog of Monsanto
Photo by Hounds That Howell

So out come Neil's new band Promise of the Real featuring two of Willie Nelson's sons Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson on guitar and vocals, Corey McCormick on bass, Anthony Logerfo on drums, and Tato Melgar on congas and percussion. The band is really outstanding and clearly they seem thrilled and honored to play with Neil. Likewise, Neil seems to really enjoy his jams with Promise of the Real pairing off with each individually throughout the night.

Words (Between the Lines of Age)

One of our highlights was "Out On The Weekend" where Micah Nelson played the late Ben Keith's pedal steel solo with a violin bow on an electric guitar which really was just absolutely breathtakingly poignant.

It wasn't until the 11th song -- about an hour into the show that we heard the 1st new song from the album The Monsanto Years -- "Wolf Moon", a rather pleasant tune which reflects on our big, magical world and our small place in it. We mention this because this was probably the longest time we've been at a Neil Young concert before we heard a new song. Often times, it is well into a Neil Young concert before you hear a familiar song, so these concerts are very unique.

Down by the River

The music did most of the speaking with Neil saying little from the stage. Although on the first night, Neil went into a humorous little diatribe about a critic who wrote in a review of The Monsanto Years about "Wolf Moon" being "yet another song about the moon". So after completing "Wolf Moon", Neil said "Well, here's yet another song about the moon" and "Harvest Moon" was played. It was one of our funnier moments in Neil concert going over the decades, but maybe you just had to be there to appreciate it.

"Love and Only Love"

A few more random notes. Promise of the Real seems like a great band for Neil and it's a real joy to watch the craft being handed to the next generation. Lots of fire and energy on the stage. The jams on "Down by the River" and "Love and Only Love" were smokin'. And definitely some sound flavors with conga drums by Tato Melgar. We can't say enough good things about Micah's musical diversity on a variety of guitars and the piano. And Micah totally shreds when jams with a violin bow on several of the songs. We -- and everyone we spoke with -- found the vocal levels of Promise of the Real to be very low, especially Lukas' which is a shame since he has such a great distinguished voice.

Lastly, on paper, these are nearly dream setlists, 25+ songs, new and old songs, solo and a new band, acoustic and electric, nearly 3 hour shows. Rare songs like White Line, Bad Fog of Loneliness, Don't Be Denied, Double EE?! Who would've ever thought we'd hear another Greendale song?

That said, clearly the setlist is in a state of flux. As noted below, 3 songs on the setlist of 7/9 were not even played. The single encore of "If I Don't Know" just did not work and when the lights came up folks were clearly a bit surprised. We would expect continued adjustments. Mixing in rarities and classics in with The Monsanto Years new songs is a better approach, however the overall song flow mix is pretty disjointed.

Lastly, we'll just point out the obvious: Promise of the Real are the REAL deal.

Setlist July 9
Note: Hank to Hendrix, Flying On The Ground is Wrong, Don't Be Denied & Double E were not played

We can really go out on a limb here and say that maybe Neil should try the Greendale approach: play The Monsanto Years songs first, break and then play the hits? That said, riots would ensue.

So that's about it for now. Maybe more later. We hope to see more of the tour and are especially wanting to be in Vermont to see our good friends and radio buddies Tony & Eric. We shall see.

Otherwise, great to see so many Rusties at Red Rocks. Hello again to all we caught up with and sorry we missed some of you. Love to all, you're the best.

peace & love,
thrasher & thrashette

More photos at ThrashersWheatNeverSleeps |

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At 7/10/2015 12:52:00 PM, Blogger CARSON said...

Great recap, thank you for posting!

After seeing the first setlist of the tour -- with "White Line" and "Don't Be Denied", two of my absolute favorite songs, period -- I was equal parts thrilled and nervous. Thrilled that he was playing them, but nervous that they wouldn't stick around in the set. Desperately hoping both come back for the rest of the tour!

At 7/10/2015 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Thanks for the excellent update, enjoying all this vicariously through the reports. Agree 100% -- dream set list (especially the opener ... Neil bring please back DBD)!!
Your description of 'Out on the Weekend' reminded me of something -- Neil said after Ben died that he wouldn't be able to play a lot of these songs without Ben ... I took it with a grain of salt then but its never a happy moment when Neil says he's retiring a large portion of his canon from live shows ... it sounds like with Promise he's been able to resurrect some of those classics and given your description it sounds like he's done so quite successfully which is awesome news!!
FWIW i think just hearing a good "Weekend' is enough to justify the whole show ...

At 7/10/2015 02:50:00 PM, Blogger growl said...

Looks like you guys had fun! Do you think there will be new dates added?

At 7/10/2015 05:40:00 PM, Blogger anygirl said...

Thanks for the excellent review and those great photos Thrasher. It sounds like Neil is really enjoying himself with this new group of kids! I watched a few of the videos that were posted and my first thought when i heard him playing LAOL with POTR was how amazing it is that Neil can reinvent these songs with new bands over and over again and still make that exciting thing happen for us every time! Sounds like it will be a really great tour.

At 7/10/2015 05:49:00 PM, Blogger Raincheck said...

Thanks for the great review. Great to see the focus is on Neil's music. I would have loved to see this show. What a set list! Would be fun to hear all this music with a new band.

I was afraid this tour would be activism first, music second. Love Neil's passion, but the reality is I am a fan of the music first. This show blends the two brilliantly.

At 7/10/2015 10:29:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...


So far it sounds like a great basic set list with more flexibility in song selections than on recent tours. Reading your review, it sounds like you thought there were a few misses last night in regards to song sequencing and that there may have been a problem leading up to the encore (if in fact it was even an encore).

Do you think there was any dissension or miscommunication within the band or anything of a health related situation? Or any other thoughts that led to an abrupt show ending?

As usual, I've heard some differing interpretations of the show, but a few echoed your thoughts that it ended on a bizarre low note.

At 7/11/2015 01:29:00 AM, Blogger Sandy Horne said...

So wonderful to see you and the lovely Mrs. Thrasher again. Wasn't it magnificent! !! Red Rocks is the best venue on the planet. So beautiful and spiritual. You know when you enter that something magical is going to happen. Peace

At 7/11/2015 04:55:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Dan1: As far as I remember, when Ben died Neil said he would never play those songs with another pedal steel player, not that he'd never play them again. And he's stuck to that, he's played a lot of stuff that Ben had played on but never with another pedal steel player.

At 7/11/2015 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Regarding the note on the setlist photo from Thursday, Flying On The Ground is Wrong also was not played (and Winterlong already is on the list)

At 7/11/2015 09:48:00 AM, Blogger ANDREW BYROM said...

Great review Thrasher, thanks for posting. Really hope we get some UK dates later in the year. Neil seems on a real roll with this band, superb set lists. Got to reiterate that I love the new album, had it on repeat since it was released. Strongest thing he has done in years.

Still holding out for the promised vinyl.

At 7/11/2015 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Night Two is coming up on Rust Radio right now (Sat 10:30 am edt). Great report and pictures--sounds like a wonderful time. Glad you could be there, and thanks for your always great reporting and spirit. You two have a safe trip home.

Anyone can be this and
Anyone can be that and
I'll be the Toaster of
The one who talks back
--Tobin Sprout

At 7/11/2015 01:15:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@CARRSON - thanks. Yes, "White Line" and "Don't Be Denied" are pretty special live in concert.

@Dan1 - good point on 'Out on the Weekend'. Micah did Ben proud.

@growl - hard to say what the future may bring. Neil could be onto his next album and band for all we know. :)
But it would be a shame if only 11 concerts occur. The band definitely needs to be given a chance to fully coalesce before disbanding and moving on.
Maybe The REAL will have many years to come?

@anygirl - Yes, the band POTR seems to have rejuvenating powers on Neil. A really great tour not to be missed.

@ Raincheck - thanks. how about both activism & music first? A brilliant blend indeed.

@ TopangaDaze - not too worry. Who knows what happened to cut encore? There was no obvious troubles. Our observation was that after a scorching LAOL, Neil was totally spent. You have to remember the venue is a mile high and maybe he just didn't have any juice left at that altitude and had low oxygen. Also, it rained very hard during DBTR (appropriately) so conditions were less than ideal at this point. stay calm and jail the too big to fail.

@Sandy - And so wonderful to see you and the lovely Mr. George as well.

Hope you're feeling better and sorry we missed a goodbye hug & kiss.

Next time we hope it will be a full AK Girls experience. :)

@ John - good points. thnx

@ Babbo B. - corrected. thnx for keeping us straight. We're terminating our entire TW proofreading dept.

@ ANDREW - think we just saw somewhere a vinyl release date. We'll try and rundown if someone doesn't post it here.

@ Mr H. - Likewise thanks for your always great comments and spirit. Tobin would be proud.

At 7/11/2015 02:43:00 PM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

Amazon is showing vinyl on Aug. 14:

At 7/11/2015 03:35:00 PM, Blogger BruceinPhilly said...

For me these shows were perfection. Equal parts great band, great Neil, great sound, great venue and great friends (and relatives). Neil was able to bring every era he wanted to visit with these guys and sound good. There were, perhaps, more "Oh my f-ing G-d!" moments at these shows than any in recent memory. The sound was "recording studio good" to my ears - left was left, right was right, cystal clear, no delay (from my seats) and the bass was vibrating the sleeves on my rain jacket (just enough bass, not overwhelming).

Wolf Moon was a standout song among many. So well written, arranged and played. "Inside the beauty of this place..."

Neil got younger!

At 7/13/2015 06:29:00 AM, Blogger Adkgirl said...

Thanks as always Thrasher S Wheat for the great review, and the photo of you and Thrashette! I'm as excited as a kid waiting for Christmas day to see Neil at Bethel Woods (Woodstock) on Friday and your review has got me even more stoked. A great feeling for a 60 year old, 45 year fan. And bring on the Greendale songs! That guy just keeps singing, can't anybody shut him up?

At 7/17/2015 02:13:00 AM, Blogger RobW said...

I was at both Red Rocks shows and was blown away by both. Admittedly, the second kind of fizzled with the encore but we got "Winterlong" so who cares. I was really impressed with the band. They have great energy together and it looks like Neil has found new blood to play with. The bass player bounced around like Billy Talbot used to. Having to endure the rain all day Wednesday and for most of Neil's set Thursday just made it that much sweeter.

Rob W.


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