Neil Young does what Neil Young wants to do. This is the guy who followed up his first #1 album with three perfect but utterly uncommercial records documenting the bloody aftermath of the heroin-riddled early 70’s. This is the guy who ended a tour with on-again-off-again creative partner Stephen Stills by telling his tour bus driver to head to a different city and then sending a cryptic telegram. This is the guy who was sued by his record label for making music “unrepresentative” of his prior output, and then responded by making a tongue-in-cheek rockabilly album with a band he called The Shocking Pinks. He’s one of the greatest country rock songwriters of all time, the reluctant Godfather of Grunge who brought Sonic Youth out as an opening act before they’d really broken through, the suffix at the end of Crosby, Stills, and Nash that delineates their good output from the schlock. He’s always followed his muse regardless of what strange path it led him to, and he’s rolling into Riverbend tonight for a rare Cincinnati appearance.
Young’s most recent album, The Monsanto Years, was recorded with the help of California quintet Promise of the Real, headed up by Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. The record rails against the business practices of the titular agriculture giant and the proliferation of genetically modified produce. The results are occasionally clunky and frequently ham-fisted, but also deeply passionate. Young, who co-founded Farm Aid in 1985 and continues to appear at the event annually, has never been afraid to dedicate songs and entire albums to his political causes (the twin-conflict 2006 time capsule Living With War) and personal interests (the electric car-themed Fork in the Road). Songs like “A New Day For Love” and “Big Box” rumble on like classic Crazy Horse, “If I Don’t Know” echoes the climbing riff of “Dear Prudence,” and Promise of the Real proves to be an excellent match for Neil’s noisy guitar solos.
Early reports from the current outing (dubbed the Rebel Content Tour) imply that the group is not just interested in preaching agricultural policy. The early setlists are as generous and broad as any in recent memory, stretching all the way back to his days with Buffalo Springfield and covering all aspects of his meandering career. Harvest Moon is well represented, but so is the aforementioned “Ditch Trilogy” from the early 70’s.
Opening act Band of Horses are making a long-overdue return to Cincinnati. The Seattle group is a decade deep into their accomplished career, highlighted by back-to-back masterworks at Everything All The Time and Cease to Begin. Ben Bridwell’s reverb tank tenor soars above songs that bubble menacingly before exploding into the stratosphere. There’s more than a little bit of Neil Young’s influence in their music, and they’re the perfect complement to the legend on the bill.
Neil Young + Promise of the Real with Band of Horses
Riverbend Music Center, Anderson Township
$65-350 Pavilion, $30 Lawn