Thursday, July 4, 2019

Neil Young & Promise of the Real / Bear's Den - Live 2019.07.03 Waldbühne, Berlin, Germany

This was my second time seeing Neil Young, and as luck would have it, I was able to see this show in the same company as the last time in Dallas in 2014. That show was a rare solo outing focusing on acoustic guitar performances and rambling storytelling. This show was part of a larger tour with Neil's preferred backing band of late, Promise of the Real, and as expected, the focus was on electric guitar workouts. The name of the venue translates to "Forest Stage", which is accurate: it is located in the western outskirts of Berlin, surrounded by the woods, but adjacent to the large Olympic stadium complex from the 1930s. It made for a beautiful environment, and thankfully the weather was pleasant.

Artist: Neil Young & Promise of the Real
Venue: Waldbühne
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 3 July 2019
Opening Act: Bear's Den

01. Country Home
02. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
03. Over and Over
04. Mr. Soul [originally performed by Buffalo Springfield]
05. Helpless [originally performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young]
06. Old Man
07. Field of Opportunity
08. Heart of Gold
09. Words (Between the Lines of Age)
10. Lotta Love
11. Walk On
12. Winterlong
13. Bad Fog of Loneliness
14. Danger Bird
15. Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
16. Love and Only Love
17. Rockin' in the Free World

18. Roll Another Number (For the Road)
19. Piece of Crap

Opening act Bear's Den played a rather generic brand of Americana that blended country pop with hints of what might've been dream pop. However, they leaned much too heavily on the country and pop side of the equation and had none of the delicate balance of Mojave 3. The songs maintained a steady, dance-friendly beat and featured synthesizers despite a lack of anyone playing an instrument that seemed capable of creating that sound. This all was paired with lyrics of minimal content. They were harmless but also edgeless and I was unimpressed.

When Neil Young showed up with Promise of the Real, they were ready to rock. They started with a strong series of songs mixing Young's early days ("Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", "Mr. Soul") with extended, jam-oriented songs from Ragged Glory (1990). This transitioned into several of his biggest hits and some of his more serene, country-rock material, including a rare electric version of "Lotta Love" (from Comes a Time, 1978). Another highlight was "Words", a great song with an unusual time signature that that band pulled off with finesse.

That was followed by a few of Neil's best early 70s deep cuts, namely the still-relevant "Walk On" (from On the Beach, 1974), personal favorite "Winterlong" (first played in 1970 but unreleased until Decade, 1977), and the almost forgotten "Bad Fog of Loneliness" (also first performed in 1970, but unreleased until Live at Massey Hall 1971, 2007). The rest of the main set consisted of lengthy rockers. First was the dark and brooding "Danger Bird" (from Zuma, 1975), and then came "Hey Hey, My My" (from Rust Never Sleeps, 1979), which was as heavy and intense as ever. "Love and Only Love" (another from Ragged Glory) was given an extremely long workout, including sections with dueling lead guitars and warped delay manipulation of Neil's guitar. "Rockin' in the Free World" went over even better with the crowd than "Heart of Gold", and the band's triple-fakeout ending was received with ecstatic delight instead of annoyed impatience. No one seemed to mind that Neil forgot a few of the words.

The encore consisted of a ridiculously comic pair of tunes: "Roll Another Number" (from Tonight's the Night, 1975) and "Piece of Crap" (from Sleeps with Angels, 1994). The latter's consumer capitalism critique is just as relevant as ever. Young mentioned wanting to finish on a "spiritual" song, which led me to think he had one more song to offer, but he left the stage, so he must have been referring to "Piece of Crap"!

Young and Promise of the Real performed in top form. The band played tight, followed Neil's energy and whims without hesitation, and provided a huge space for impressive improvisational solos. However, Tato Melgar's percussion was mostly overshadowed by Anthony Logerfo's drumming, and there was rarely space for three distinct guitar parts. Lukas and Micah Nelson seemed to often play the same thing, although on a few songs like "Winterlong", they played distinct parts that fleshed out the song wonderfully. Micah also switched to a piano for a few songs in the middle.

If there was a weak link, it was probably Young's voice. For the most part, he was still in good form, and he even managed to make the almost-whined lines of "Helpless" sound convincing. However, "Old Man" was less successful, as Neil couldn't quite hit the notes in the chorus, so some of the power of the song was sapped.

I was surprised at the lack of songs performed from either of Young's albums with Promise of the Real (The Monsanto Years, 2015, and The Visitor, 2017). In fact, everything the band performed was written in the 20th century. However, they played a variety of fairly obscure songs from Young's discography in addition to some big hits, so I can't really complain with what we got.

Much like with John Cale, you can never be quite sure what you are going to get when you buy a ticket to a Neil Young show. On this occasion, he seemed to be aiming to please the audience, but he still had some time for extended jams and rare songs from across his back catalog. It's strange for Young to completely bypass his recent records, but his choice of material was nonetheless a pleasure. The jams were good and the performance quality was high, so this was another thoroughly enjoyable show from Neil.

[Neil Young & Promise of the Real.]

Bear's Den: C-
Neil Young & Promise of the Real: A

P.S. Thanks to Cheryl and Alyssa!

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