Neil Young + Promise of the Real
Noise & Flowers
ABOVE THE CURRENT
In the ever-present, overly obsessive, self-documentation of all that he’s been (and is becoming), Noise & Flowers is yet another archival project from Neil Young—this time in the guise of a previously unreleased live album and concert film from Neil Young + Promise of the Real during their 2019 European tour. Dedicated to the late, great Elliot Roberts, Young’s longtime manager, film producer, and idea pusher (if Shakey wanted it done, it was Roberts who made it happen), Neil & the Real’s collaboration illuminates the songwriting guitarist and squeaky vocalist’s vision as no other band has.
That’s saying a lot when you consider the nerve-jangling raw power of, say, Crazy Horse. Yet the collective funk, country bluster, and rangy rockism of the Real’s Brothers Nelson (Willie’s children Lukas and non-band-member Micah) and their high school surfing buddies is as tight as muscle to bone, and possessive of their own nervous, youthful energy. One could say that it was the Promise’s under-30 punch and prowess that was key to the energy between them and the newfound forcefulness that it brought Young.
Maybe. Then again, it could be the difference between the soulful muscularity of what The Band brought to Dylan’s music in its time versus Dylan’s finicky, noirish Never Ending Tour ensemble featuring bassist Tony Garnier. Vibe is vibe, and it’s alive, no matter what its differences may be.
From the opening three-song salvo of vintage Neil (a crusty “Mr. Soul,” the open-faced boldness of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the harmonious “Helpless”), this live recording already sounds like nothing else Young had released previously. Any musical team that could bring vintage Young into the present without watering down its tenderness or poetry is heroic. That Promise of the Real also bring a hillbilly delicacy to “Comes a Time” and a raver’s edge to latter-day Young classics such as “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “From Hank to Hendrix” makes them Neil’s most formidable allies and most challenging collaborators—a team capable of wringing out every ounce of passion from Shakey.
In a history and catalog filled with great live albums, Noise & Flowers ranks among Young’s best, brightest, and one that doubles as a loving send-off to an old old friend.