Ever the contrarian, Neil Young has deigned to promote his latest album with a lengthy set-list consisting almost entirely of crowd-pleasers from his vast back catalogue.
Neil Young | Rating: **** | Hydro, Glasgow
This, remember, is a man who once stubbornly played his harrowing ̓70s masterpiece Tonight’s the Night in its entirety – sometimes twice - during the tour behind that album.
Has he mellowed with age? Of course not. Current release The Monsanto Years is a furious critique of genetically-modified food corporations and, by extension, big business bullying in general. But instead of dwelling on its contents, he’s sculpted a conceptual performance to support its themes.
Opening with a spellbinding solo set, he set the mood with a battered piano rendition of After The Goldrush (“Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century”) and, on his antique reed organ, Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).
After that unbelievably generous introduction, which also boasted Heart of Gold and Needle and the Damage Done, the arrival of his current backing band Promise of the Real – a young Americana outfit featuring Willie Nelson’s son Lukas – initially proved anticlimactic.
It was a relief when, following a few too many mid-paced ballads, Young finally strapped on his electric guitar for Words. What followed was a relentless volley of barbed-wire rust, including an extraordinary 20-minute version of Down By The River. Young’s playing was, as always, thrillingly intense.
“I don’t have much audience patter tonight,” he drawled. He didn’t need it. Undimmed in its power and compassion, his music is the message.