Neil Young pours everything into the message in Mansfield
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It was a sprint to the finish, the last burn at the end of the marathon, when Neil Young and his gang of willing accomplices decided there was time for one more before calling it a night.
The distortion and crashes sounded like bombs dropping on the crowd while Young and company set fire to “Love and Only Love,” an epic jam that takes every possible parcel of energy and enthusiasm to pull off. More than 10 minutes later, after several group huddles and complicit acts of electrical violence and revving the engine when it seemed like, maybe, perhaps, things had a chance to idle, he finally brought the entire production thrashing down to the ground.
It was a beautifully draining experience for the audience. Everyone on stage looked like they could have just as happily kept on playing all night.
At the classically named Great Woods amphitheater in Mansfield, Mass., on Wednesday night (“Corporations can’t buy your history,” Young said halfway through the night), Young pulled out every ragged note from his black Les Paul along with Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson and Promise of the Real in an effort to get his message on the importance of independent, organic farming across, along with making a debilitating amount of noise along the way. Both were effective, the latter spectacularly so.
On disc, his new album The Monsanto Years can be a tough listen, where the natural tunefulness of all the songs starts to be overshadowed by the repeated anti-Monsanto theme. It’s a worthy cause that can overwhelm the music on a straight listen, with the album itself becoming more specific and less nuanced as it plays.
Live, that issue was no issue at all. Young is the rare artist who remains as dedicated to his new material as he is his classics and deeper tracks past 50, and he was able to work most of the Monsanto songs into the set in an organic way. Two girls began the night sowing seeds on the stage before Young first appeared, and a team of Monsanto-esque acolytes sprayed down the stage midway through the acoustic set. The new songs crept in as the set went on, with the audience by then more than ready to hear what he really wanted to say.
Beginning solo on the piano with “After the Gold Rush,” he worked his way through a number of his earlier songs that hinted at the environmental themes of the night, flying Mother Nature’s silver seed from Hollywood to redwood, before Promise of the Real joined him for a few more acoustic songs. They truly powered on for “Words,” and the real work of the night began.
After always seeing him with Crazy Horse or Crosby, Stills and Nash, I hadn’t realized how powerful it would be to see him on stage with a young band. They were flexible enough to adapt to a range of his material and edgy enough to push him whenever he needed pushing — and respond to the pushback all the appropriate force.
Lukas Nelson, in his mid-twenties, is a high-energy foil Young hasn’t had since pairing with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Only the white hair poking out from Young’s hat betrayed his age. The two pushed each other and the entire collective seemed intent on egging on the jamming — Nelson and Young traded licks on a gloriously long “Cowgirl in the Sand,” and after some nearly demonic guitar histrionics from Neil during “Love and Only Love,” Lukas ripped the next solo out with his teeth.
Rather than trying to one-up each other, the way he and Stephen Stills might have way back when, it was an ego-free exchange, wrapped up in the moment of making this ungodly sound and keeping the night going as long as possible. By the time the last notes of “Love and Only Love” crashed down to earth, it was well past the venue’s draconian 11 p.m. curfew.
Young is his own force of nature, the eye of Promise of the Real’s hurricane swirling around him, from the acoustic seeds to the full-on electric destruction. But it’s enthusiasm that feeds the storm, and Young had the perfect band fueling him on this night.
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com