Neil Young with Promise Of The Real perform his Rebel Content Tour at the First Direct Arena Leeds on Friday 10th June 2016

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Canadian rock veteran Neil Young, is as passionate today about GM Foods, corporate greed and America’s fragile rural economy as he was in his Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young days. Still able to find inspiration in the most unlikely of places, such as Safeway’s shopping aisles, Walmart’s employment policy and Starbuck’s coffee, this folk, country, and rock icon was writing about the embattled natural world long before most people had even heard of their carbon footprint. But do the indulged passions of a 70 year star make for an entertaining show?

Thousands at the First Direct Arena in Leeds last night thought so, as they paid homage and absolute respect to the man. One of only three dates in the UK, this Rebel Content Tour is in support of last year’s anti agribusiness concept album, The Monsanto Years and his recent ecologically themed live release, Earth.

This appreciative audience were expecting some of Young’s indulgences and he did not disappoint. At the start of the show, two young ladies apparently dressed as farmers walked across the stage spreading seeds. A few songs later, sinister figures in gleaming biohazard suits sprayed the ground in a decidedly evil manner, in complete contrast to Young in his familiar Fedora Hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with the word Earth.

Coming on stage, resplendently craggy, he took his place behind the piano and launched into an opening solo acoustic segment that began with After The Gold Rush, Heart Of Gold, the still powerful anti-heroin anthem The Needle And The Damage Done, and performed on a wheezing church organ, Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).

But then the reverie was broken when Young’s latest backing band and contributors to The Monsanto Years, came onto the stage. The very youthful, Promise Of The Real, may not be Crazy Horse, but in guitarists Lukas and Micah Nelson, they have some serious pedigree; their father is after all the great Willie Nelson.

With them on stage, the evening shifted to a more country rock section, with tracks largely drawn from Young’s classic albums such as Harvest and Ragged Glory. There was the harmonica licked Out On The Weekend and Unknown Legend, through to a handful of Crazy Horse numbers starting with a rousing Down By The River that lasted nearly twenty minutes, before this part of the set was finished with Love To Burn.

Finishing with a raucous Rockin’ In The Free World, the crowd were on their feet in appreciation. Demanding an encore Young was back on stage for an energetic When You Dance, I Can Really Love before rounding the evening up with Fuckin’ Up.

Whilst Young’s voice may have lost some of its power, what he has gained is a very wispy mournfulness which suited this set perfectly. Last night in Leeds Young supplied everything that a Neil Young set should have; it was eclectic, entertaining, thought provoking and certainly unpredictable. There were no new tricks, but the old dog still had lots of bite.