Photos by Melissa Caruso
The Bowery Ballroom was the NYC hotspot last night as a star-studded bill followed in the noble footsteps of Neil Young. Organized by the same folks who put on Petty Fest, Stones Fest and Dylan Fest, Neil Fest joins a gamut of artists together for the benefit of Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which raises money for ailing or aging musicians no longer able to perform. Not only did artists like Norah Jones, Ryan Adams, Jakob Dylan and Patrick Carney give their best takes on Young’s discography, they did so without taking a dime. Altruism at its finest.
Ushering in a three-hour, 30-song setlist, the night began with “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown.” Though countless household names took the stage, several newer bands proved equally impressive, for example, “Powder Finger,” given justice by NY rock band Caveman, with lead guitarist Jimmy Carbonetti sawing away on Young’s brooding and complex chord progressions. Likewise, the New Zealand indie rock band Streets of Laredo stirred things up on “Tell Me Why” by adding a lush trumpet that beautifully counteracted the song’s sense of self-doubt. Elvis Perkins kept defiance intact on “Tonight’s the Night” with haunting backup vocals by Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson, two-thirds of alt-country band Puss n Boots (who spent part of the summer opening for Neil Young).
Michelle Branch sent chills all the way down to the East River with “Down by the River,” but had it not been for evening’s house band, the crowd would not have been rocking as hard. Not much can be said regarding Nicole Atkins’s take on “Only Love Can Beak Your Heart” other than she simply nailed it.
The grave “Cortez the Killer” found Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zimmer on stage, and following in Young’s melancholic leanings, Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill demonstrated his range on “Unknown Legend;” his Harley Davidson cutoff-biker T apropos the chorus “…she rides a Harley Davidson,” with the crowd singing along.
You could hear a pin drop during Sharon Van Etten’s rendition of “I Believe In You.” Van Etten dedicated the song to her parents, watching from the balcony overhead and thanked them for “introducing me to Neil Young when I was a kid. I might cry, so I’m sorry.” Equally emotional on stage was Charles Bradley. Decked out in a gold sequined suit, he blew the roof off the place with “Heart of Gold,” transforming the Harvest staple into a vibrant soulful spirit.
Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon brought things down a notch for an acoustic dealing of “After the Gold Rush” with renowned rock photographer Danny Clinch on harmonica as clouds of cannabis billowed overhead the crowd. “…And I felt like getting high,” they sang in unison.
“Ohio” could have been the only song performed all night and everyone would have gone home satisfied. It had the ingredients Neil Young first required when he wrote the song after the Kent State shooting: a certain innocence, a lot of passion, some sort of craziness and a large dose of sadness. Together, Jakob Dylan, Butch Walker and Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney elevated Young’s most pivotal protest song in a way that will be talked about long after the show. Dylan, well-versed in the protest genre via his father, similarly made the hairs on everyone’s neck stand up on the provocative “Southern Man.”
When Ryan Adams took the stage, it was clear many came for him. Getting lost on his electric guitar in the process, Adams with his just-got-out-of-bed-I-don’t-give-a-damn hair and Misfits T, added a certain degree of ragged glorification on “Cinnamon Girl” before softening up on a heartfelt duet of “Old Man” with Norah Jones. As finale, “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World” invited the night’s performers to the stage, creating one of the loudest moments the Bowery Ballroom has seen in quite some time.
Young, who turns 70 this November, has been recording music for 50 years. The number of people he has touched would be impossible to track down for some are dead, some are alive, and some haven’t even been born yet. To witness Neil Young’s impact amongst such diversity in performing artists last night only proves what I’ve been trying to tell my parents all along, ever since they got pissed at me for tattooing his face on my arm—-that NEIL YOUNG IS THE SHIT.