Neil Young review: still rockin’ supreme in the free world

From the bucolic opening to the focused fury of a 15-minute guitar jam, Young is still one of music’s most astounding sights and sounds

Artist: Neil Young + Promise of the Real

Venue: 3Arena

Date Reviewed: June 8th, 2016

Before Neil Young takes the stage for this sprawling performance, two “farmers” sprinkle seeds across the stage, a bucolic scene that harkens back to a simpler era.

And then Young appears at a piano and launches into the immortal opening notes of After the Gold Rush. “Look at Mother Nature on the run, in the 21st century,” he sings, reminding us how long he has been warning us about environmental degradation.

It’s clear the 70-year-old hasn’t lost any of his eco-warrior fervour – this Rebel Content tour is in support of last year’s anti-agribusiness concept album, The Monsanto Years, and Young’s recent ecologically themed live release, Earth.

There is a definite pastoral glow to the crowd-pleasing solo opening sequence of classics such as Heart of Gold, Needle and the Damage Done and Mother Earth.

The reverie is then broken as a team of fumigators take the stage, spraying pesticides on the previously organic harvest. The metaphor isn’t the most clearly conceived, perhaps, as it coincides with the arrival of Young’s latest backing band, The Promise of the Real.

They might not be Crazy Horse, but in guitarists Lukas and Micah Nelson, they have some serious pedigree – their father is one Willie Nelson. The evening shifts to joyous country rock with tracks largely drawn from classic albums such as Harvest and Ragged Glory.

The contrast between Young, grizzled and sagging, and the wiry Micah Nelson to his left might appear to highlight the great man’s advancing years. But as the set list advances to his traditional frenzied guitar jams, it actually serves to emphasise Young’s remarkable energy – the focused fury he can bring to a 15-minute guitar jam is still one of the most astounding sights and sounds in music.

After a meandering spell featuring eco-protest tracks from The Monsanto Years, Young closes out with a trio of classics – a raucous Rockin’ in the Free World, a gloriously distended Love and Only Love and an energetic encore of Fuckin’ Up.

It was everything a Neil Young set should be – eclectic, electric and wilfully unpredictable.