Neil Young + Promise of the Real at Summerfest in Milwaukee | Review + Set List + Photos


Words and photos by Jason Gonulsen

I was in love once. Maybe even twice. I don’t have to think of it very often because the songs we sang together always remind me. And I’m always listening, singing, thinking; it’s a daily ritual that will never come undone. The love and music float through my mind like a constant grainy film that projects memories into the space that I live. I move forward but I don’t look away.

Neil Young has many songs about love, but he’s not singing about that now. His latest album, The Monsanto Years, is a direct assault on GMO labeling, and many other corrupt political issues. And let me be clear: I don’t know a thing about GMOs, and I mainly stay away from politics, but I absolutely support artists speaking their minds about political issues, and here’s why: they are artists; they should follow what inspires them, and no subject should be off the table. I have never understood why people have a problem with this.

While Young does not back down on The Monsanto Years, he was careful and subtle with his message on Sunday when he closed out Summerfest in Milwaukee at the Marcus Amphitheater. He did not preach between songs (he rarely said a word other than “How ya doin’?”), and he even waited until the sixteenth song of the evening, “People Want to Hear About Love,” to really dig in.

This was strategic on his part, and it worked beautifully. Before the show began, two “farmers,” both young and female, casually took the dark stage and started watering sunflowers and throwing seeds on the ground. They weren’t showy, and they didn’t try to attract attention, but you knew what was going on. This was Neil being Neil, in the same vein of the Greendale tour of 2003, where he used actors to augment the subject of his new material.

Young, dressed in all black, his t-shirt reading, “EARTH,” finally walked out in the dark, without a spotlight, and sat down at his piano and began “After the Gold Rush.” It was a sudden jolt to a slightly confused crowd, and the effect was incredible. We all sang along:

I was thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.
Thinking about what a
Friend had said
I was hoping it was a lie.

He kept the momentum going while performing solo, and it was an onslaught of familiar hits: “Heart of Gold,” “Long May You Run,” and “Old Man” followed on acoustic guitar. He concluded his mini-solo set at his pump organ with “Mother Earth.”

Then, more theatrics.

A group of individuals wearing hazmat suits swarmed the stage, spraying what was ostensibly fake pesticide fumes as Young’s band, Promise of the Real, joined the stage for an acoustic set that began with “Hold Back the Tears” from American Stars ‘n Bars from 1977. “Out on the Weekend,” the lead track from Harvest, and “Unknown Legend,” the lead track from Harvest Moon followed, as Young touched on nearly every album of his career. The performance of “Peace of Mind” from Comes a Time, was especially flawless, with Young repeating the line, “you know it takes a long, long time” at the end.

A lengthy electric set followed, and while it was heavy on The Monsanto Years, Young mixed in plenty of gems like “Words” from Harvest, Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground is Wrong,” “Walk On” from On the Beach, “White Line” and “Love and Only Love” from Ragged Glory,” and an absolutely blistering “Down By the River” from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. Some of these songs had not been performed for close to 15 years.

With the show approaching three hours in length, Young and Promise of the Real returned for a two-song encore, which closed with Greendale’s “Double E,” but began fittingly with “Don’t Be Denied” from Time Fades Away.

Again, it was a reminder to not look away. And not give up, no matter the cost.

Well, all that glitters isn’t gold
I know you’ve heard
that story told.
And I’m a pauper
in a naked disguise
A millionaire
through a business man’s eyes.
Oh friend of mine
Don’t be denied.

Set list (taken from Sugar Mountain):

1. After The Gold Rush
2. Heart Of Gold
3. Long May You Run
4. Old Man
5. Mother Earth
6. Hold Back The Tears
7. Out On The Weekend
8. Unknown Legend
9. Peace Of Mind
10. Field Of Opportunity
11. Wolf Moon
12. Harvest Moon
13. Words
14. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
15. Walk On
16. People Want To Hear About Love
17. A New Day For Love
18. Down By The River
19. Big Box
20. A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop
21. White Line
22. Workin’ Man
23. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
24. Monsanto Years
25. If I Don’t Know
26. Love And Only Love

27. Don’t Be Denied
28. Double E

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