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09 Oct 2016

Desert Trip Day 2: Neil Young Goes Organic, While Sir Paul McCartney Slows Things Down

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Paul McCartney and Neil Young shared the stage for several songs Saturday night. Paul McCartney and Neil Young shared the stage for several songs Saturday night. Kevin Mazur/Goldenvoice

After a thrilling (if traffic-choked) first day of Desert Trip, attendees returned on Oct. 8 for Day 2—excited about the performance of Saturday headliner Paul McCartney.

But before Sir Paul took the stage, it was time for Neil Young and his current band, the Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah. Let’s just say the appearance of the stage was … odd.

On both stage right and left were large teepees with “Water is Life” painted on them; two smaller teepees flanked each of the large ones. The backdrop resembled a canvas bag of seeds, with the words “Seeds of Life. Indio, CA. Organic.” This was a reference to Neil Young’s latest album, recorded with the Promise of the Real, titled Earth, which references the plight of the small farmer, Monsanto, environmentalism and many other farming and environmental issues. Considering Young sits on the board of Farm Aid and was one of its founders, his interest in farming issues should come as no surprise.

Young took the stage as the sun was setting, but only after a few women pretended to plant and maintain seeds. He started off his set alone playing “After the Gold Rush” and his 1972 hit—and only No. 1 single—“Heart of Gold.” He continued with “Comes a Time” and “Mother Earth.”

At the end of his four-song solo set, men in white hazmat suits came out shooting tanks of air onto the stage, apparently meant to symbolize chemicals. The Promise of the Real then joined Young to play “Out on the Weekend” and “Human Highway.”

The song “Down by the River” featured an extended jam, with Young and Lukas Nelson trading impressive guitar solos. A few minutes later, Young joked with the crowd about how Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, would be closing Desert Trip with on Sunday night, saying, “Roger is going to build a wall and make Mexico great again!” After playing “Welfare Mothers,” Young suggested that it should become Donald Trump’s new campaign song.

Young closed out his set with “Rockin’ in the Free World,” joking that he only had 40 seconds left in his set and that he was going to try to play it in its entirety within that time. Thankfully, the song went on for about five minutes and was incredible.

Young’s set was energetic, mixing material new and old. The Promise of the Real proved to be a perfect backing band, ably handling Young’s Southern and country rock, and even his heavier rock material.

At 9:45 p.m., Paul McCartney walked onto the stage after the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” blasted over the PA system. He started his set with “Hard Day’s Night” and followed with “Jet,” which featured a colorful video on the big screen showing clouds in a pink hazy sky with a jet flying through.

“We’re going to have a party in here, Liverpool-style!” McCartney declared.

He mistakenly called the audience “Coachella” throughout much of his set, but he later on referred to “Indio” a couple of times. The first half seemed to be a warm-up, as he was clearly pacing himself. McCartney’s not Mick Jagger, who runs around onstage; he’s not Neil Young, who plays grunge-style guitar chords. He’s not a high-energy performer. And that’s just fine.

In fact, during the latter part of the first half of his almost-three-hour set, he slowed things down even more, performing the early Beatles/Quarrymen demo song “In Spite of All the Danger” in front of a hologram of an old, rundown house in the night. The hologram remained for “Love Me Do” and “And I Love Her.”

McCartney took the time to explain the meaning of the song “Here Today,” about a conversation that he and John Lennon never got to have—and how you never know how long you’ll be able to have conversations with people before they are gone. The emotional tune brought a few tears to people’s eyes—which was no surprise, especially given the news of the murders of two police officers in Palm Springs earlier that day.

After McCartney performed “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” things picked up and became more intense. He also brought out Neil Young to perform “Day in the Life,” “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

The performances of “Band on the Run” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” made for great visuals on the video wall. The album cover of Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run album suddenly became animated, with each of the members on the cover talking to each other and laughing. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” featured animated pop art and footage of people in the old Soviet Union doing everyday activities—even Russian dancing.

The Rolling Stones ended the show on Friday with pyrotechnics—and McCartney outdid them during “Live and Let Die.”

Before the encore, people sang along to the chorus of “Hey Jude” for a few minutes as McCartney told the boys to sing it, then the girls, and then everyone. As for the encore, McCartney mentioned the Rolling Stones covered “Come Together,” so he had decided to return the favor and cover their first UK hit single, “I Wanna Be Your Man,” which was followed by “Helter Skelter,” complete with very trippy visuals. He closed out the night with “Carry That Weight.”

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