Review: Fired-up Neil Young rocks and rails at the Forum
Neil Young is riled up. Again.
That’s usually a good thing, at least in terms of his concerts, and it turned out to be the case when the veteran rocker and his new cohorts, Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real band, pulled into the Forum in Inglewood on Wednesday and put forth nearly three hours of blazing musical and sociopolitical fire.
The latest flashpoint for the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is his ire toward corporations, specifically Monsanto and Starbucks, two of the main targets of his wrath on his new album with the Promise of the Real, “The Monsanto Years.”
The songs he’s written — about what he sees as the favoritism corporations are shown in the political arena and the negative fallout such favoritism has on consumers in general and family farmers in particular — aren’t his most poetic. In fact, some are downright clumsy, as has been the case with many of his most topical songs over the years.
For example, this awkward verse from the new song “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop.” (Star Bucks. Starbucks — get it?)
When the people of Vermont
Voted to label food with GMOs
So that they could find out
What was in what the farmer grows
Monsanto and Starbucks
Through the Grocery Manufacturers Alliance
Sued the state of Vermont
To overturn the people’s will
“Stardust” it’s not.
Young’s songs generally break down into two categories: those written from inspiration, and those deriving from perspiration. Most of “The Monsanto Years” songs exhibit more sweat than muse at their core.
But the lyrics of his new songs were just the launch pad from which he and the band, which includes Lukas and Micah Nelson — sons of Young’s old friend and Farm Aid benefit co-organizer Willie Nelson — took the conversation musical and let the fireworks explode.
Besides, “The Monsanto Years” songs, while providing a meaty chunk midway through the show, represent just one element of the current tour, which is built around one of the freshest set lists Young has assembled in at least the past decade.
On Wednesday, he revisited numerous songs he hasn’t played regularly in ages, hidden gems including the Buffalo Springfield-era “Burned,” “L.A.” (from 1973’s “Time Fades Away” album), “Words” (from “Harvest”), “Hold Back the Tears (from “American Stars ‘N Bars”), “Mansion on the Hill” (from “Ragged Glory”), the super-rare “Vampire Blues” (from “On the Beach”) and the unreleased new song “I Won’t Quit.”
The interplay among Young, the Nelson brothers on guitar, bassist Corey McCormick, drummer Anthony Logerfo, and percussionist Tato Melgar was frequently incendiary, Young feeding off his musical progeny’s youthful exuberance, they off his experience and focused willfulness.
The show opened with five solo numbers, Young moving from accompanying himself on piano for “After the Gold Rush” to acoustic guitar for “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” “Helpless” and “Old Man” and then to pump organ for “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).”
One of many highlights of the evening was a remarkable 17-minute rendition of “Cowgirl in the Sand,” the concert staple that managed to sound newly inspired both by Young’s politically driven anger and his joy at the new camaraderie of his young bandmates.
As for his activism, late in the show, Young practically begged police to come on stage and arrest him during the segment he devoted to “civil disobedience, which isn’t normally a part of our show.” Young dissed the recently amended state regulation AB 2470, often referred to as the “California seed law,” which governs how agricultural seed can be sold or exchanged.
Young and other family-farm advocates have argued that it gives corporations such as Monsanto unfair advantage over the little guy. So Young and members of his crew distributed packets of assorted vegetable seeds and dared law enforcement to arrest him. “I know there are some of Inglewood’s finest here tonight,” he said. “I’d like to finish the show, but if they have to come arrest me, I’m ready.”
Young finished the show, closing with “Vampire Blues,” which obsessives count as only the third time he’s ever done the song live — last week in Eugene, Ore., and 41 years ago in San Luis Obispo. It’s a bluesy churn written during the era of gas shortages and soaring oil prices in which Young sings, “I’m a vampire baby, suckin’ blood from the earth/I’m a vampire, babe, sell you twenty barrels’ worth.”
He was riled then too.
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