Neil Young + Promise of The Real – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – Sunday May 1, 2016
If there is to be a lasting image of Jazz Fest’s second weekend it will be of Neil Young playing a 25-minute version of ‘Cortez The Killer’ in the rain. ‘Dancing across the water’ indeed! It was as vivid as a couple of years ago when he played ‘Like A Hurricane’ as the rain pelted down on him and Crazy Horse at a winery in Victoria.
If certain performances become hallmarks of each year’s festival – such as Springsteen’s 2006 Seeger Sessions show – then, for me, this will be Neil Young’s year. The impression he created with Promise of The Real was so strong it should last for years!
Young launched his two and a quarter hour show with ‘Fuckin’ Up,’ a strange choice given the fact that this is a family event, but he probably figured that the only people left were die-hard fans anyway. There was also a little bit of an edge on stage: he was perturbed by some stage lights and demanded that they be turned off, which happened after a while.
As Young took the stage, women dressed in overalls and straw hats wandered around throwing handfuls of seeds from the sacks they were carrying. Yes, there was to be a message – we got it. (This was made perfectly clear towards the end of the set with ‘Monsanto’ – which was preceded by men in HAZMAT suits spraying the stage with smoke.
It also coincided with a huge clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning that made everyone jump a foot in the air). To reinforce the point, he also performed ‘Seed Justice’ from his forthcoming album Earth (due June 17), a collection of songs about the environment from across his career, that he recorded with POTR.
While many of the poncho-bedecked audience had stood patiently for hours in the downpour waiting for Young + Promise of The Real the weather was completely forgotten when they were rewarded with a memorable set that made everyone forget about the weather.
Afterwards, all people could talk about was the second song, a monumental version of ‘Cortez’ that sputtered into life and took off gloriously – not the fact that it rained all day. With the band in perfect sync Young turned an already epic song into something magnificent. Then as a complete contrast he whipped into ‘Country Home.’
“It’s very humid and this old guitar gets out of tune at the drop of a hat,” he said as he handed Old Black to a guitar tech for a minute. “I’d rather be in tune when I am singing about something particularly band.” All of which led into ‘The Monsanto Years.’
Then there was the 40-minute version of ‘Love & Only Love.’ That’s right, 40 minutes! (That almost matches the 40-minute version of ‘Down By The River’ that he opened with at the Beale St. Festival a couple of days earlier!) From anyone else you might claim it as being self-indulgent, from Neil Young it was like watching a Pharoah Sanders weaving a spellbinding improvisational solo.
The most noticeable thing about Young’s performance was the fact that he genuinely seemed to be having fun with this young band fronted by Lukas (son of Willie) Nelson. He smiled as they traded guitar licks and, as the band approached the dynamic that you might witness with Crazy Horse, he seemed to be pushed to greater efforts by his young accomplices, who also provided some tasteful harmony vocals. It is an inspired combination.
After ‘Love and Only Love,’ and perhaps in response to a request, Young said, ‘ The next song is the same as the last song, only shorter……it’s all one song,’ which, in fact, reminded me of Wayne Shorter’s set in the Jazz Tent last year which was all one tune!
While he closed the set with ‘Rockin’ In The Free World,’ which got the audience moving and thrusting their fists in the air, there was no way Young was going to be allowed to leave without an encore and that was a short, sharp version of ‘Powderfinger.’
The whole show consisted of only nine songs but they left an indelible impression. No doubt other festival acts such as Paul Simon and Steely Dan were able to recreate the exact sound of their original recordings but that is not Neil Young’s modus operandi. Like Dylan, he offers you a different and exciting experience every time you see him.
The setlist: ‘Fuckin’ Up,’ ‘Cortez the Killer,’ ‘Country Home,’ ‘I Won’t Quit,’ ‘Seed Justice,’ ‘Monsanto Years,’ ‘Love & Only Love,’ ’Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,’ ‘Powderfinger.’
A review of Jazz Fest second weekend will be published tomorrow.