Out of all the old guard of rock legends – Dylan, McCartney, Rolling Stones et al – Neil Young stands apart as the one that STILL feels like he always has something to prove. While the aforementioned’s careers have stalled in a kind of creative inertia brought on by advancing years and untold wealth, Young, at the age of 70, continues to release such a prodigious amount of new material it can be hard to keep up. Away from music, Young is a passionate environmental campaigner, with the effects of agrochemicals on America’s rural economy being a particular concern in recent times. His venture into audio technology with his pet Pono project has been somewhat less controversial or, indeed, successful.
And so it is that the show begins appropriately with two figures in poor, Grapes Of Wrath-era farming clothes throwing what appear to be seeds across the stage, continuing the themes covered on last year’s concept album The Monsanto Years. With that moment of singular theatricality out of the way, Young saunters onstage alone for a string of crowd-pleasers: ‘After the Gold Rush’, ‘From Hank To Hendrix’, ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’. It’s a quietly impressive opening salvo of classic tracks designed to please the audience, to clear the air if you will, so that Young can get on with trying out some rare obscurities and turning up the volume later in the show, something he has enthusiastically embraced on this particular tour.
In another rather unsubtle moment, two men in biohazard suits pretend-spray the stage with fake pesticide (another dig at Monsanto, no doubt) before Young is joined by Promise Of The Real. The hitherto unknown band from California, two members of which – Micah and Lukas – are the sons of country icon Wille Nelson, appear to have given Young a new lease of life: Young seems revitalised while his young backing band simply can’t quite believe their luck. In fairness, they are up to the task, deftly handling any detour or false ending ol’ Shakey throws at them.
In an expertly-paced show, the band help to ratchet up the pace and volume over a generous two and a half-hour showtime: ‘Comes A Time’, ‘Alabama’, ‘Ohio’ and ‘Winterlong’ are given added heft and urgency by the Nelson brothers, while a protracted, jam-heavy ‘Love To Burn’ is the first genuinely thrilling moment of the night, with Young hunched over his guitar, indulging in a series of coruscating guitar solos and piercing feedback. It goes on forever but that’s to be expected at a Neil Young show. There’s more of it on a thrilling and timely ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and tour favourite ‘Love and Only Love’, the latter almost reaching the thirty-minute mark before going out on a blaze of glory.
There are rumours that this may be Young’s last tour on this side of the Atlantic but it’s difficult to see him slowing down just now. Based on the energy and vigour clearly on show tonight, where he seems to be in the form of his life, it feels like he’s just getting started. Keep on rockin’? Let’s hope so.