Neil Young and Promise of the Real at the O2 11.06.2016

On this, the Rebel Content Tour, the ageing rocker proves to be both ageless and still rebellious

As two straw hat-sporting, dungaree-wearing, grain-spreading figures scatter seeds across the O2 stage you would be forgiven for mistaking the gig for a theatrical performance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. This precedes the entrance of the evening’s villains. Wearing hazmat suits and spraying pesticides across the stage, the serene country atmosphere is wiped by a Ghostbusters-like nightmare. Hidden beneath his black hat and a harmonica, Neil Young looks like Zorro, an environmental protagonist here to save the world from corporate greed and environmental unsustainability with his acoustic guitar.

The rock hero emerges behind a piano for After The Gold Rush. The subdued and understated solo opening enhances the environmental message of the night, as Young updates the lyrics to ‘Look at Mother Nature on the run in the twenty-first century’. This contemporary edge is soon superseded by the reminiscent audience who eagerly cheer the line ‘There was a band playing in my head, and I felt like getting high’. From Hank to Hendrix, is a beautiful number, oozing vulnerability and showcasing Young’s often overlooked vocal abilities. Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done are welcome inclusions from the 1972 masterpiece Harvest. They sound even more impressive live in 2016 than on the CD I grew up listening to in my father’s car.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_0503fc7e-30a0-11e6-9c43-b579056ef2e5Young caps off this solo opening with Mother Earth (Natural Anthem). Hunched over a battered organ, with a single candle illuminating the old rocker, he resembles a maniacal musical genius conducting mass. Considering his recent live release Earth and the same title emblazoned on his t-shirt, we are under no illusions that Young is still fighting overtly for the environmental cause. Mother Earth’s conclusion exacerbates this:

‘Respect Mother Earth and her giving ways Or trade away our children’s days.’

The gig really shifts up a gear when Young exchanges his acoustic guitar for his trusted electronic weapon ‘Old Black’ and his band Promise of the Real are introduced. The subdued, understated opening descends into a frenzy of feedback and crunching guitar sounds, showcasing his accreditation as the godfather of grunge. Most notably Alabama and Words (Behind the Lines of Age) still sound as bitter and venomous as on record, almost 45 years on from Harvest. Even On the Beach’s Revolution Blues is dusted off and Walk On is a jovial experience.

A mention must go to Promise of the Real, in place of the ageing Crazy Horse. Including Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of Willie) they look like excitable children who had won a competition to play alongside their hero. Young to’s-and-fro’s with Lukas, engaging in a sonic, solo duel in constant attempts to out-do one-another, although Young always reigns supreme. This exemplifies the unpredictable nature of the night, as well as the authoritative dominance of the 70-year old, as his band constantly fight to respond to his cues and his lead. Having recorded and released The Monsanto Years with Promise of the Real, it comes as a surprise to only hear one song from the album, that being the self-titled single. This is somewhat a relief after a Bristol audience was subject to hearing the entirety of the then-unreleased Tonight’s the Night, four times over in 1973. It is safe to say that Young’s songwriting hasn’t gotten any less confrontational, however:

‘Every year he buys the patented seeds Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto When you shop for your daily bread and walk the aisles of Safeway, Safeway.’

The rocker attempting to tackle his vendetta against Safeway.


There is a notable lack of Zuma, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Rust Never Sleeps, though with 36 studio albums to his name, it is inevitable that some albums will be overlooked. One album that is well-showcased is his and Crazy Horse’s excellent 1990 effort Ragged Glory. This is not just because Young concludes with a 30 minute Love and Only Love from the aforementioned album. While at first encapsulating, compelling and hypnotic, twenty minutes in it seems as though Young has forgotten he’s performing to a crowd, and instead serving his own boredom, or rather his ego.

F*!#in’ Up provides the youthful encore, bringing the 2 and a half hour barnstorming set to a close. For one last time the three guitarists and bassist gather in the centre of the stage in attempts to impress one another, as they had all night. Their musical chemistry is clear. By the end Neil Young is hard to distinguish as the old crony, as the band engage in a food fight, aiming cherries at each other and into the crowd. Promise of the Real not only sufficiently support Young musically, but they bring the 70-year olds’ youth back out of him. Tonight proves that Neil Young is not just an ailing rocker and that he still has a thing or two to teach today’s youth about how to rock out.


Coldplay at Wembley 16.06.2016

Coldplay redeem my faith in the world with a spectral showpiece.

The second of four sold out nights at the home of English failure (football*) saw the London band paint their home town multi-coloured, like they swallowed a rainbow and projectile vomited it across Wembley.

Support acts Lianne Le Havas and Alessia Cara proved to be underwhelming, failing to clear the dark clouds that hovered literally and metaphorically after the horrific events of previous weeks. Despite the former seducing us with her charm and soul, the latter lectured us with her ‘be who you want to be, not what the media wants you to be’, broken-hearted, excessive thanks etc. spiel. Considering the scale of Coldplay’s previous supports (see Jay Z and Girls Aloud circa 2008), the £70 ticket prices perhaps could have stretched further and provided more than just a gazebo to protect their supports from the rain.

Nonetheless the band the 80,000 fans came to see spared no expense theatrically and pyrotechnically. Coldplay’s arrival on stage brought the first of numerous explosions of confetti of the night. Entire forests must have been demolished to supply Coldplay with confetti for their tour; it was possibly the reason why Chris Martin’s ex-wife and renowned environmental nut Gwyneth Paltrow ‘consciously uncoupled’ him. A huge commitment to his trade, dare I say it marital martyrdom. Martin and co. transformed Wembley into a glistening spectacle with an impressive lights show involving LED wristbands; the stadium must have resembled a UFO from afar. The audience thus became part of the show, rather than just spectators. Coldplay clearly weren’t put off by the fact that this same stunt left their Mylo Xyloto Tour completely unprofitable. Nevertheless, the stadium glowed and sparkled beautifully like a psychedelic acid trip from the 60s. Even the band’s instruments dripped multi-coloured paint as though they had fallen into an M & Ms mixing vat. This all distracted from the fact the title track from the band’s latest effort A Head Full of Dreams opened the show rather modestly, despite Chris Martin’s best efforts to lead the procession like a master of ceremonies with the demeanour of an excitable Jack Russell.

Martin gets his fair share of stick but it is hard to deny his showmanship qualities. While the rest of Coldplay stand mute on the grand stage, the band’s lead singer and leader entertains the crowd like a poorly dressed performing monkey (see his repugnant, rainbow-coloured, over-sized basketball sneakers and long-sleeved and short sleeved t-shirt combo) . His energetic bursts up and down the stage runway, solo-spinning like a drunk in a club just before lights go up, not to mention his ability to hold a tune at the same time, renders Martin a real tour de force to admire. However with the more downbeat numbers like Yellow (gotten out of the way surprisingly early), The Scientist, and Fix You seeing mass sing-a longs, it shows involvement takes no persuading. As the lyrics reverberated around North London, it became clear how personal and recognisable they are to each and every member of the audience; a testament to just how ingrained Coldplay have become within British culture.

13450891_10157042234300187_6799952874059811115_nNew, seventh album A Head Full of Dreams was, as expected, heavily showcased this evening. So much so that the Grammy Award-winning debut Parachutes and Brit award-winning and Grammy-nominated X & Y were neglected in favour for the mixed reviewed A Head Full of Dreams and Chris Martin’s sickening ode to his break up with Paltrow, Ghost Stories. Nevertheless it sounded better live, with the likes of Hymn for the Weekend (minus Beyonce, unfortunately) and Jonny Buckland’s infectious guitar rhythms on lead single Adventure of a Lifetime proving that every Coldplay song is made for live performances.

Swapping from the main stage to a smaller podium in the centre of the stadium, the band oscillated to more subdued numbers like 2014’s Magic and the audience Instagram-requested (Coldplay you don’t help yourself) God Put a Smile Upon Your Face, wonderfully harking back to second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head. Drummer Will Champion, bassist Guy Berryman, Martin and Buckland crowded round the podium in what were nice, stripped-back, understated renditions, particularly compared to the colourful parade that had preceded. A poignant, yet dreadful, cover of the late, great David Bowie’s Heroes, also featured, with the band paying tribute to Muhammad Ali, the Orlando victims, MP Jo Cox and Christina Grimmie, throughout the night.

Paradise was as fun as you’d imagine, until what seemed like the concert had been hijacked by Calvin Harris for an unnecessary nightclub rave-esque ending. Mylo Xyloto’s Charlie Brown provided a highlight of the night, it turned the concert from toe-tapping into full-scale jumping even getting the elderly audience members (sorry father) bouncing enthusiastically. Viva La Vida was the peak, and would later echo along Wembley Way all the way to Wembley Park Station. The encore, however, failed to elevate the concert to new heights with most of the songs you’d expect at the climax used up earlier, instead opting to finish with Up&Up; nice but just that.

Coldplay, love them or loathe them, are currently the biggest pop band in the world. Now veterans of the big stage, having performed the ‘prestigious’ Superbowl Half Time Corporate Circus, and headlining Glastonbury for – what seemed like – the 16th time, their pensions are well and truly secure, please now get back to writing good albums.