Neil Young’s show Sunday, Oct. 4, at WaMu Theater burst with grit, passion and energy.
At 69, Neil Young may seem a bit old to be playing the rebel. But the role suits him well on the current Rebel Content Tour, a politically charged trek supporting his environmentally themed, anti-corporate “Monsanto Years” album.
Bursting with grit, passion and energy, Young was backed by Promise of the Real, a five-member band featuring singer-guitarists Lukas and Micah Nelson, the sons of country legend Willie Nelson.
Young clearly enjoyed his interaction with the two younger musicians, who joined him in multiple, explosive guitar jams in which the musicians faced off in tight circles. The classic “Down by the River” grew into an extended, 20-minute jam — a highlight of the latter half of the show.
By contrast, the first half of the concert was somewhat mellow. It began when two actors dressed as old-time farmers scattered seeds about the stage. Later, actors wearing hazmat suits sprayed the seeds with pesticides (in the form of stage fog), a dig at agricultural giant Monsanto.
Young, on piano and harmonica, opened with “After the Gold Rush,” his dream-sequenced 1970 environmental opus. He followed with more stirring classics, among them “Heart of Gold” (his biggest hit) and “Old Man.” “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)” was one of many earth-friendly songs; it featured the lyric, “Respect the earth and her healing ways/ Don’t trade away our children’s day.”
Young, who was unusually chatty, and the Nelsons hammed it up with humorous remarks about flossing and teeth-brushing.
The first new song of the show was “Wolf Moon,” an urgent, engaging tune that fits nicely into Young’s oeuvre.
“A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop” took aim at Starbucks, whose corporate headquarters are just down the street from WaMu Theater.
The classic “Love and Only Love” featured another pull-out-the-stops jam, closing the main set.
Young and Promise of the Real returned for an encore opening with a raucous version of the classic “Cinnamon Girl,” one of the singer-songwriter’s early masterpieces.
Opening the concert was a New York gospel-style vocal group calling itself The 99 Percent. Working the crowd with political and environmental slogans, the group promoted Young’s new website, GoEarth.org.
As concertgoers streamed into the theater before the show, they passed through Neil’s Village, a collection of tents offering information on environmental issues, such as sustainability and energy and climate.