Category Archives: Travel

Life whilst travelling.

Neil Young + Promise of the Real

As two women, garbed in traditional farm-like clothing, throw seeds around the stage in keeping with Neil Young’s latest anti-agribusiness album, the man himself struts onstage in darkness with the lighting technician seemingly half-dosing and failing to pick up on his entrance until he’s already sat at the piano and launching himself straight into “After the Gold Rush”.

After flitting to the right to illuminate the empty organ, and then doubling back to the left to light up the piano, there we find Mr. Young, hat bent low and covering his face, timely opening with the songs first lines to huge roars of approval. No introduction, no frills, no messing about.
“Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century” he sings, effortlessly and poignantly blending the old and new which is exactly what this new iteration of Neil Young seems to be all about.

From one classic hit to another, he then gets up, walks to the centre, grabs one of his guitars and goes into “Heart of Gold”. God knows he has enough hits to keep this up for a long time and nobody was complaining but I felt a certain urgency to this opening chapter, a “let’s get this over with” attitude that only relaxed after a peaceful “Comes a Time”, continuing the eco vibes,  the ever-emotional “The Needle and the Damage Done” and a slow stirring “Mother Earth” on the organ changed the pace and rounded out his solo opening set.

Then came the serious business. In other words, the Promise of the Real.

As gas-masked pesticide-spraying figures stalked across the stage for the final theatrics of the night, some young-looking boys also confidently strode onstage and got comfortable behind their instruments. This was and has been his latest backing band for a while and is comprised and fronted by Lukas Nelson, none other than one of Willie Nelson’s sons, with his brother Micah also joining them for this tour.

They started things off nice and easy with “From Hank to Hendrix” followed by a lovely “Out on the Weekend” as they eased into their stride. Gone was the urgency, replaced by a thorough and palpable enjoyment, from the part of the artists as well as the public. It was such a wonderful sight seeing a timeless relic of a generation past casually and pleasantly sharing the stage with these respectful and fully mindful youngsters – despite their family’s pedigree.
The bond was clear for all to see as he turned towards them to ask them if they had any ideas for the next song and they exhumed a wonderful togetherness in their playing that made it feel like they’d been at it for years! Neil’s voice still had all its youthful sweetness to it and his harmonica playing was as effortless as I’d always imagined it as “Unknown Legend” went into “Wolf Moon”.

The first sign of the magic came when Neil picked up an electric guitar for the brooding “Words” and started jamming and soloing the way only he can. The scene seemed to change just a little bit, gentle ease of the past songs shifting to a quiet and serious concentration to fit the songs’ mood, and Neil took centre stage with the young band members ever so slightly tilted in his general direction to follow his lead. We had our first (of many) trios and interchanges with Lukas getting in on the solo act, whilst they bounced in unison the rhythm as the song maintained its anxious intensity.

There was a newfound and more profound strength to their sound thereafter, as if “Words” had shown us exactly what they were all about and capable of. After a warm and united “Winterlong”, we were treated to a rare performance of “If I Could Have her Tonight” before a buoyant “Walk On”.

Then came the thunder.

It all started with a paltry 20 minute “Down by the River” (TWENTY!).  I remember wondering how long the song had been going on for, unable to grasp the notion of time in the barrage of triple wailing guitar solos swirling around my dazed and amazed mind. I’ll not attempt to break the song down for you, but one of their numerous jamming sessions culminated in one of my favourite moments in live music when Lukas Nelson, obviously unable to bear the hindering weight of his cowboy hat in the wake of the unrestrained explosion that was to place, in all of a second and single motion, stopped his playing, raised his arm, grabbed his hat and chucked it to the floor to rid himself of this cumbersome burden and allow himself full freedom and flow to headbang and rock’n’roll  in the explosive fury that was emanating from this fearsome foursome. All four axe-wielders huddled close, swaying to the rhythm whilst interchanging solos: simply and purely rocking out.
And then the storm subsided just as quickly as it rose, but the ante remained, higher than before. And the groove goes on, the calm is an illusion and we’re in for another round. Until before you know it, Neil’s back on the mic, reminding you that this is an actual song, with lyrics and not just a jam and it’s not the Grateful Dead, although on such evidence, one might be forgiven for thinking as much. “Be on my side” he sings: as if there were ever any doubt.

Unsure of what was to follow and by now not really minding, we were allowed some respite, a single song of it, in the form of “Powderfinger”, which gave us time to reflect on what had just happened and relax and drift back down to Earth with its light fun vibes.
Then it was on again for another epic jamming session with a 12 minute “Cowgirl in the Sand”, picking up where “Down by the River” left off with solos galore, each guitarist with his own style and sound, capped by a blistering solo from Lukas, as the band’s synergy shone in their collective playing, as if they were in some run-down garage in the middle of nowhere and not being watched and worshipped by 13 000 pair of eyes. It was the most wonderful sight to see, these musicians from different eras and generations not just sharing the stage but revelling in it and in their harmony.

Both Nelson brothers have to be commended for their assured and gratifying performances: bandleader Lukas as the effervescent and searing of the two guitarists and Micah as the jack of all trades, switching from piano to guitar, playing with feedback and generally taking a subtle backseat, with his demeanour and style reminiscent of Radiohead’s brooding genius Johnny Greenwood – as opposed to his brother’s more flamboyant Stevie Ray Vaughan style.

Equal special mention should also go out to the other band members: bassist Corey McCormick who did not stop hopping or smiling the entire gig, cap on head, grooving to the whole bonanza, and to drummer Anthony Logerfo who kept the whole thing going, even during two 20 minute songs, letting the guitars work their jamming prowess and solo magic to the overwhelmed crowd. Oh, and their percussion and conga guy as well, Tato Melgar, solid grooves.

A driving “Mansion on the Hill” came next before a 12 minute “Love to Burn” that sizzled just as much as its title implies. By now, Neil was making light of his age and proving his surname to be true, and the satiated crowd were cruising along with the band to their awe-inspiring ride. What was left was a rousing rendition of the timeless and massive favourite “Rockin’ in the Free World” – complete with a “Fuck Donald Trump” bonus line to a huge roars of approval. As the song blasted and bombed its way forward like the call to arms it is, Lukas urged the crowd to clap along before joining in the onstage antics once more: I can hardly think of a song that rocks as hard as this one does live.

All that was left was for a two song encore of the sweet “When You Dance, I Can Really Love” before properly finishing with the eponymously erroneous “Fuckin’ Up” with its urgent rush and decisive tone belying the recurring “why do I keep fuckin’ up?” refrain and oxymoronically leaving the audience feeling all the more fulfilled.

This was an absolutely breath-taking and mesmerising performance from one of music’s most enduring rock legends, still going more than strong at the tender age of 70, and keeping pace – if not out-rocking them – with his youthful backing band with whom he shares a palpable and refreshing bond, a mixture of respect and admiration.

As I ran full tilt to the train station so as to not miss the last train home, I could not wipe that smile off my face as I marvelled at the 2 hour and 45 minute virtuoso masterpiece I had just been privy to: well played Neil Young, well played.

(First Direct Arena, 10th of June 2016, Leeds, U.K.)


Life in a Van (Part 1)

As for what life on the road is really like, well that’s a different story altogether. First of all, I can’t yet give a proper and full analysis or description seeing as all we’ve done is linger about in Australia. So I suppose I’ll give you a premature idea of “life in a van” – he says whilst rapidly typing in the back of the van about to be dropped off to be shipped off to Dili.

The previous is exactly the reason why I can’t yet give an accurate description: we’re still connected and in touch with the modern world, with society, whereas our obvious (and stereotypical) idea of “life on the road” is being lost in the middle of nowhere in a sparsely populated and exotic country, amiright?
I’ll give you a part two in a month or two…
As for now, for us, life in a van is constant bickering. I mean, what can I say, that’s what brothers do really. The only person able to piss you off like no one else in the world is that sibling who just gets under your skin and crawls there ever-lastingly. Of course, a lot of this is but good humour but it can often lead to the brief and sudden flaring of anger. The little brother must often obey the big one who also happens to be the ‘leader’ of the trip we find ourselves on.

Now let’s not pretend there isn’t general disagreement between all of us four. Shopping, driving, packing, cleaning, cooking (especially the first two) all the way to teensy little things of absolutely pointless importance that we’ll obviously also argue about. Arguing is a must…but it often ends in a joke, a smile, and a hug (with Gino).

Life in a van is four of us sleeping in said van, two up top, two down below, space is sparse. We got a routine going to keep it organised and fine. Life in a van is waking up with the sun at 7 everyday (more or less) or later (if no alarm was set) in a pool of sweat. It’s having our customary vegemite breakfast and then maybe having a shower, maybe not. Shall I shower when I know I’m going to spend the afternoon sweating? But then again, when am I bold not sweating? Then again, when do I have access to a shower? (quite often in Darwin…). Life in a van is bunkering up in our van and closing all escape routes with mozzy nets; lathering ourselves with mozzy cream, and endless, endless scratch scratch scratching (until they pop and bleed in someone’s case…). And life on the road is constant dirt underneath your nails. Seriously, so annoying.

I know what you’re thinking, “man that sounds awesome, it’s what I always wanted to do”. Nah seriously, there’s also the awesome flip side to it. I’ll get back to you on that.

Fare thee well

I’m off!

Off off off into the wild. I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while yo. Especially what I was gonna quote, there was an amazing Gandalf sentence that I picked up while re-watching the film for the umpteenth time but it seems my memory is as bad as his…
Bunch of songs I could post as well (and I will) that would adequately depict the situation!

The time has come to leave this hectic society behind and move forth into the sweet nurturing (well, we’ll see) arms of mother loving nature. 3 airports, 8 + 4:30 hours (+7 stopover fukdat), I shall arrive in the city of Darwin, I shall land in (one of) my motherland(s), and I shall step forth into the new and invigorating airs of what I like to think of as Freedom.
As through this freedom shall come, piercing the bright white clouds, speeding along under the deep blue sky, unified as one, glinting in the dazzling sunshine, blinding all in their way, the vessel, the wagon, the van bearing my fellow kindred and brothers as, finally united, we set off into the wild.

Khanyways, enough with the lyrical waxing, before I make my leave to spend hours ripping my hands to shreds upon mountain facades, break me wee leetle feet upon trails and trails along mountainsides and repeatedly fall off a piece of damn string tied between two trees; before sitting down in the campfire light and waiting for the ghost of Tom Joad, chillin’ in ma hammock with ma guitar, jamming around the van with our utensil like instruments (utruments? instrensils?), well before all this, I should like to leave you with a song or two (or many fucking more) that portrays my current mood.

Peace mofos. (duh)