First Impressions: Noise and Flowers by Neil Young & Promise of the Real

In 2019, mere weeks away from a nine-date European jaunt with Promise of the Real, tragedy struck Neil Young and his musical family: longtime friend and manager Elliot Roberts, who had been by his side for 50+ years, passed away. Neil attended the funeral and then hopped a plane for the European Union, where he and Promise of the Real—according to a note Neil included with Noise and Flowers—“hit the road and took his great spirit with us into every song.”

He expanded upon that on the Neil Young Archives when announcing the album: “D and I were in the bus, on our way to New York to catch a plane to Europe…when we got the call. After returning to the funeral for our beloved Elliot, we got on a plane and left for the tour.”

He also set the stage for the emotion that drove the shows: “[W]e had a poster of Elliot on a road case, right where he always stood during all shows. Everyone who was with us felt that this tour was amazing for its great vibe. The REAL and I delivered for Elliot.”

According to the Sugar Mountain website, those dates were:

  • 06-29-2019: Tusindårsskoven, Odense, Denmark (Tinderbox Festival)
  • 07-02-2019: Filmnächte am Elbufer, Dresden, Germany
  • 07-03-2019: Waldbühne, Berlin, Germany
  • 07-05-2019: SAP Arena, Mannheim, Germany
  • 07-06-2019: Olympiahalle, München, Germany
  • 07-09-2019: Sportpaleis, Antwerpen, Belgium
  • 07-10-2019: Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • 07-12-2019: Hyde Park, London, England
  • 07-14-2019: Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Ireland

(The last two, it should be noted, were co-headlining gigs with Bob Dylan.)

Each night, he and POTR played anywhere from 16 to 20 songs, with the selections stretching from the days that used to be to, one night, songs from an album (Colorado) that he’d yet to record—48 different ones, in total.

I’m sure there will be some fans who wish Neil had simply released one (or all) of the shows as “official bootlegs” or “timeline concerts,” but the reality is that there’s a difference between a live album and a live bootleg. The live album is part of the official canon and has to take into account time, space and the almighty dollar, as the cost of a triple-LP set in today’s world is prohibitive. (Myself, I bought the blu-ray, which comes with a hi-res download of the album.) So it’s a matter of what to include and what to leave out.

In any event, the 14-track Noise and Flowers creates a coherent whole from songs recorded at eight of the nine tour stops, kicking off with a fiery “Mr. Soul” and closing with the rollicking “F*!#In’ Up.” What I like most about it is that it’s not a “greatest hits”-type revue, though many of his classic tracks are indeed here, with some unexpected treats sprinkled throughout. “On the Beach,” for example, is a welcome addition, as are “I’ve Been Waiting for You” and “Winterlong.”

The Promise of the Real, I should mention, are a promise fulfilled: As I noted when I saw them with Neil in 2015, they are the real deal, capable of Crazy Horse-like intensity one minute and, as this clip of “From Hank to Hendrix” demonstrates, deft dexterity the next. (When Neil sings, “sometimes it’s distorted,” listen for the guitar rumbling behind him.)

In short, Noise and Flowers is an able tribute to Neil’s longtime friend and manager. It’s also a welcome addition to Neil’s live album arc. Earlier this week, totally forgetting that it was due out on Friday, I found myself swept away by a litany of Neil albums, from Harvest Moon to Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, plus quite a few of the “official bootlegs” he’s released of late. This fits right in. It’s intense yet contemplative, and lives up to repeated plays. It may not be the best onramp for new fans (Decade is still that), but for those of us who’ve been following him for the bulk of our lives, it’s worth many plays.

Oh, and there’s this: I’m just back from the Saturday morning chores/bores (picking up groceries) and it plays very well when driving in the car. Take my advice (don’t listen to me)…crank it up!

The track list:

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