A low key opening saw some organic farm girls throwing seed on the stage while a solo Young quietly slipped behind the piano at the left of the stage. The sombre opening notes of “After the Gold Rush” echoed out into the capacity crowd and they responded with love. “Heart of Gold”, “The Needle and the Damage Done” and “Comes a Time” all follow in quick succession before Young takes his seat at his old pump organ for a wholly beautiful rendition of “Mother Earth”. At this stage we realise its been some twenty minutes into the show and one man has kept a stadium captivated and silent by his songs and musical presence. We’ve only seen one other artist do that in a stadium and that’s Springsteen.
The theatrics are back when some roadies clad as crop sprayers take to the stage to spray the afore mentioned seeds sewn by the farm girls. This is the introduction of the band and Young showing us his move from organic music to his electric show.
Young doesn’t quite crank it up yet though. He’s still on acoustic as if symbolising the fight against GM and organic crops. “From Hank to Hendrix” and “Hold back the Tears” follow and at this point we have to give credit to the sound crew. The Odyssey can a be difficult venue, but tonight every harmony is crystal clear as are the band.
Young plays the opening notes of “Harvest Moon” to the audience’s delight, but a brief “Technical issue” kicks in and he has to briefly abort. Quickly and wryly Young tells any of the newspaper reviewers in tonight to forget this bit, before solemnly commenting further on the demise of newspapers. “Harvest Moon” when it comes is a work of beauty.
“Alabama” sees Young go electric, but there’s no sign of “Old Black” yet, so we know the Godfather of Grunge is still holding back a little.
“Walk on” is followed by an extended and sublime version of “Words (Between the Lines of Age)”. Young is really starting to loosen up at this stage and trading guitar solos with the other members of Promise of the Real, his superb and very young backing band on this tour. Cleverly he’s letting the band play a lot of the solos tonight and it works well as it keep the songs structured and stops Young from descending into ten minute feedback solos. As for the band, well, they are clearly having the time of their lives playing on stage with their hero and their energy is also feeding Young who’s playing like a man of thirty five, half his current age.
“Old Black” finally reaches the stage for “Down by the River”. Once again the harmonies are crystal clear and the guitars are loud, much to the delight of the assembled fans. A rare outing for “Country Home” delights and delivers some powerful guitar work from Young and band.
“Monsanto Years” from Young’s current record precedes another welcome surprise of the night which comes in the form of “After the Garden”. Once a protest song about the Iraq war and George W Bush’s Foreign policy it fits in perfectly with Young’s current protest against agricultural giants Monsanto.
We realise that we are now hitting the two hour mark and Young still hasn’t stopped for breath. Digging deep into his back catalogue we get another surprise as the Buffalo Springfield classic “Mr Soul” gets played to a rapturous response. Extended, feedback drenched versions of “Mansion on the Hill” and “Love and only Love” take us to the encore, but he’s still not finished yet.
The laid back “Roll another Number for the Road” sends us home happy after hearing a strong tight set of Young’s greatest songs played with relish and love by an incredible band led by a wise old fox who knows exactly what his audience wants and how to deliver it. We last saw Young twenty one years ago in Dublin and his backing band at that time were Pearl Jam. Touring with Young didn’t hurt their career, so we look forward to hearing and seeing what lies ahead for “Promise of the Real”.
Neil Young made his first visit to Belfast last night and he certainly made it a memorable event. Just shy of the three hour mark and a set list of twenty four songs spanning Young’s entire career means that this concert will be talked about it hallowed tones for many years to come.