The first Neil Young live show I saw was ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. I saw it at a time when I knew who the Canadian was but didn’t really know his music that well. What drew me in first was the set’s backdrop. Massive amps filled the stage and made Neil Young – and Crazy Horse – look like ants. Then there were the Jawa looking guitar techs and stagehands, who ushered Young on and off the stage. It was a cool, but odd touch. The music was boss, too. Listening to the CD version of the show was great, but those visual cues were gone. When I heard that Neil Young, alongside Promise of the Real, was releasing a new live album/DVD I was excited and hopeful that those same feelings would surface.
The film / show / DVD / concert / whatever you want to call it, starts with some guitar feedback, reminiscent of the ‘Dead Man’ score, while this scrolls over a still of Neil Young walking past a big smiling picture on the side of this amp of Elliot Roberts:
“In 2019, just two weeks after the passing of my life-time friend Elliot Roberts, my manager for over 50 years, Promise Of The Real and I made a wonderous tour through Europe playing in his memory… One of the most special tours ever. We hit the road and took his great spirit with us into every song. This music belongs to no one. It’s in the air. Every note was played for music’s great friend Elliot.”
Then ‘Noise And Flowers’ appears on the screen. Over this we can hear the cheering crowd. This fades to a black and white longshot of the audience with the stage in the distance. Then Young and Promise Of The Real come out and do what they do best: play songs that people care about and want to hear. They open with a blistering version of the Buffalo Springfield classic ‘Mr. Soul’. At first you think it’s a cover of The Rolling Stones ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. I know ‘Mr. Soul’ was based on the Stones’ 1965 hit, but I can’t remember having heard a lairy version of it. Lukas Nelson and Corey McCormick are into it, pogoing around the stage. ‘Mr. Soul’ ends with this poignant, feedback drenched, outro. It adds something special to the song, and performance, and feels like Young is remembering first meeting Elliot Roberts 50 years ago.
Such motifs happen again and again during ‘Noise And Flowers’. Next up its ‘Everybody Knows This is Nowhere’. Here we get a nice long shot of Lukas and Micah Nelson, McCormick and Young singing into their microphones, bringing to mind archive footage of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performances.
There are a few surprises during the set too. Most notable ‘Field Of Opportunity’ and ‘On The Beach’. These classics sound fresh and vibrant thanks to the playing. After an elongated version of ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ we are treated to ‘Comes A Time’, ‘From Hank To Hendrix’, ‘Are You Ready For The Country’, ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ and ‘Winterlong’ before ‘Fuckin’ Up’ closes the set in rambunctious style. As the credits roll ‘Hey Hey, My My’ is heard, but not seen. This is slightly doing us dirty as I would have loved to witness the interplay, and possibly more of Lukas’ pogoing, during this performance – perhaps it will be released on a future boxset.
One of the most enjoyable things about watching ‘Noise And Flowers’ as apposed to listening to it is how much fun everyone seems to be having. During ‘Field Of Opportunity’ Young says “take it Lukas!” and Nelson plays the solo. Young nods in approval. It doesn’t quite feel like passing the torch to the next younger generation, but it’s fun to see. Before that there is a touching moment between Neil Young and Micah Nelson. During a longshot Micah catches the songwriter’s eye. A massive smile crests his face. Young turns to face him. We can’t see it, but I expect Young was smiling back.
During ‘Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World’ the whole band is just having a blast. Everyone gets a solo/time to shine and show off. Micah and Corey McCormick get up on Anthony LoGerfo’s drum platform and the three of them just rock out. Lukas wants to get involved, but has missed his opportunity to join in, so just pogos on his own until Young saunters over and they rock out together. Then there are the false endings with Young trying to catch LoGerfo – and the rest of band – out. He doesn’t, but you can tell he’s enjoying tyring to. This is all great to see. It shows that Young still loves playing live and messing about with his mates.
One of the most disconcerting things about ‘Noise And Flowers’ is that halfway though it switches from black and white footage to colour. No matter the true reason for this, it’s a bit of a stylistic curve ball. This detracts absolutely nothing from the music, or the performances, but it’s a bit odd none the less.
‘Noise And Flowers’ is one of Neil Young’s best live DVDs and one that should delight both old and new fans of his work. The interplay between Young and Promise of the Real is great and dare I say, they somehow manage to out ‘Crazy Horse’ the actual Crazy Horse. This is a greatest hits selection worthy of Elliot Roberts’ 50-year friendship with Neil Young.
Words: Nick Roseblade