Neil Young and Promise of the Real in Mansfield

Matthew Shelter on August 3, 2015

Neil Young and Promise of the Real

Xfinity Center

Mansfield, MA

July 22

The ever-evolving ruby in the dust that is Neil Young is back on the road this summer, playing a mix of old and new songs with a young, enthusiastic backing band that has lent new energy to the old master. In place of longtime cohorts Crazy Horse, Young is supported this time around by Promise of the Real, a band whose five members include Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of the legendary Willie Nelson. At the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA, the group unleashed a two-hour-plus, 22-song set that had a little something for everyone.

Young is ostensibly touring behind The Monsanto Years, his 36th studio album, which was released in late June, and he did feature eight of the nine tracks on the new album, but they were sandwiched between a broad sampling of hits and deep cuts from throughout his voluminous catalog.

The show opened with a pair of young women dressed as farm girls wandering the stage, sowing seeds and “watering” a collection of potted plants and flowers. Young’s latest album, for those unfamiliar, is something of a jeremiad against the Monsanto chemical corporation, and these farm girls were clearly meant to symbolize all that is good and pure and, well, un-Monsanto-like. With this pastoral prelude complete, Young quietly slipped behind a piano on the darkened stage and hit the familiar opening chords to “After the Gold Rush.” Young may look his age these days—he’s closing in on 70—but the years have not diminished his voice, which sounds as poignant and evocative as ever.

The opening acoustic portion of the show saw Young alone on stage—clad in baggy, rumpled jeans, a black t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Earth,” and a grey hat that shaded much of his lined and scowling face – strumming through classics like “Heart of Gold,” “Long May You Run” and “Helpless.” After a handful of such songs, the stage was attacked by a swarm of evil, haz-mat-suited villains fogging over the seeds the farm girls had sown with clouds of faux-chemicals.

With that little message delivered, the five members of Promise of the Real came out to join Young. In addition to the Nelson brothers, the band features Corey McCormick on bass, Anthony Logerfo on drums and Tato Melgar on percussion. They played several more acoustic numbers, including beautiful versions of “Unknown Legend” and “From Hank to Hendrix.”

Halfway through the show, Young segued to the electric portion of the set, and wasted little time busting out the jams, striking first on “Words (Between the Lines of Age)” from 1972’s Harvest. There may be no replacing Crazy Horse as a backing band, but Lukas Nelson and the rest of POTR, who all look to be less than half Neil’s age, brought the requisite ragged enthusiasm to the task, and seemed to give Young a jolt of adrenaline.

Young bundled five songs in a row from The Monsanto Years into this part of the set, and however tempting it may be to use this as beer-run time, I’d advise sticking around. Some of the songs may be a tad, shall we say, heavy-handed – their anti-corporate, anti-chemical message about as a subtle as a two-by-four to the face. But when the band left the lyrics behind and just played, the results were incendiary – the extended jams on “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop,” “People Want to Hear About Love” and “Big Box” providing some of the highlights of the night. By the time they returned to the classics for a blistering “Cowgirl in the Sand,” Young and his band were firing on all cylinders, and seemed to be enjoying themselves almost as much as the crowd was. So much so, in fact, that they apparently lost track of the clock, and were suddenly given the high sign that there were only 10 minutes left until the venue’s 11 pm curfew. Young had to forego an encore, and simply stayed on stage to close out the show with a final, extended jam on “Love and Only Love.”

Unlike those of some of his contemporaries, a Neil Young concert never feels like a “greatest hits” money grab. Even when he’s playing his classics, he invests them with the same passion and intensity that has drawn fans to him throughout his long career. He never mails anything in. And for those fans worried that the young kids in Promise of the Real could not fill the shoes of the great Crazy Horse – well, they’re not trying to. But they are more than up to the task of backing the old legend as he makes one more journey across the stage.