Neil Young’s FEQ debut a lesson in timeless power of rock

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Photo: Stéphane Bourgeois, courtesy of Festival d’été de Québec

Neil Young proves he’s still young at heart at FEQ.

"Hey, hey, my, my. Rock and roll can never die. There’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey, hey, my, my.”

Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young, a raging senior at 72, capitalized on his first-ever appearance in Quebec City to deliver a searing, relentless, resounding lesson in the eternal power of rock music.

Not noted for verbose interaction with audiences, Young, attired in his familiar grunge outfit of plaid shirt, shapeless jeans and black T-shirt, confessed to a FEQ crowd packed to the hilltop, “I can’t believe I haven’t been here before.” Young’s show lit up the giant Bell stage on the first Friday of FEQ.

He began the 90-minute performance by sauntering onto the stage with no introduction or fanfare, and then launching into a ferocious 15-minute jam of “Like an Inca,” from his 1982 Trans album. Young’s band includes two sons of country rebel Willie Nelson, Lukas and Micah, who opened for Young with their band Promise of the Real.

Having set a furious pace of soaring guitar riffs, Young literally played the strings off his instrument in the next number, “F**king Up,” from his 1990 album Ragged Glory with Crazy Horse. Things took a political turn with “Cortez the Killer,” followed by a rousing version of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” an anthem that’s been appropriated by various causes from the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe to the rise of Donald Trump. To make it clear where his sympathies lie, Young dedicated the next song, “I am a Child,” the first of a handful of acoustic tunes, to “children in cages.”

After a touching version of “(Gonna Take a) Lot of Love,” Young handed the stage over to the Nelson brothers for two songs, then returned for powerful, jamming versions of “Down By the River” and “Like a Hurricane.” He then swung into a grinding, emotional version of his 2010 Grammy winner “Angry World,” a song from the Le Noise album produced by Canadian studio guru Daniel Lanois.

Far from flagging after more than an hour on stage, Young ripped into the hypnotic, signature anthem, “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)” which carried all the more punch coming from an icon whose energy belies his more than five decades of creating and performing original music, 31 albums’ worth.

For an encore, Young warmed the packed and supportive crowd on a chilly night that broke the week’s heat wave, with a pristine version of “Harvest Moon.” Saying, “I’m running out of time,” as the 11:30 p.m. deadline set by the FEQ approached, Young capped the show with a tune appropriate for the fragrant odour in the air throughout the concert, “Roll Another Number (For the Road)”.

With the closing lyrics, “I been standin’ on the sound, of some open-hearted people,” Young bid a merci beaucoup to an adoring crowd enthralled with the rare, generous and enthusiastic appearance of a rock legend.

“Hey, hey, my, my.”