Neil Young and Crazy Horse were deep into a blistering set on Central Park’s Great Lawn last night when Young made an announcement: “We’re joining forces up here for you.” Dave Grohl and Dan Auerbach then took the stage with their guitars to tear through a ten-minute version of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” slashing powerchords while reverently watching the master take over, Young wrenching hazy, piercing, dissonant squeals from his Les Paul and shaking violently.
Young’s feedback-soaked set – which ranged from “Powderfinger” to new cuts like the autobiographical “Born in Ontario” and the spooky jam “Walk Like a Giant” – was an epic finale to the Global Citizen Festival, which drew more than 60,000 people to Central Park and also included the Black Keys, the Foo Fighters, Band of Horses, and K’Naan. (John Legend, Selena Gomez, Olivia Wilde and others also made cameos onstage between acts.) Organized by the Global Poverty Project to raise awareness about extreme poverty, the concert incorporated films about malaria, polio and other tragic diseases, played between performances while speakers dropped sad statistics (every minute we lose a child under five to preventable diseases; 300,000 women die every year of poverty). This didn’t exactly get you in the mindset to rock, but the mission was clear. Most tickets were free, with fans earning them by sharing information about extreme poverty on social media.
Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross and others have held classic shows on the Great Lawn, and last night’s rock-heavy lineup had a nostalgic air, recalling a time when rock ruled mega-charity fests like Live Aid and Amnesty International’s Human Rights Now!
The acts seemed especially stunned by the size of the Central Park crowd. “This event is so great, I can’t get over it,” marveled Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell. Auerbach was similarly moved: “What an amazing thing, it feels great up here,” he said. The Keys proceded to fill the giant space with their fast, fuzzed-out riffs, Auerbach buzzing across the stage during cuts like “Howlin for You” and “Money Maker,” backed by Patrick Carney’s tight grooves. The highlight? When 60,000 fans clapped during the furious breakdown of “I Got Mine,” and Auerbach lost himself in the monster riff.
Dave Grohl launched the Foo Fighters’ set with a mellow solo version of “Times Like These,” before the band kicked in raucously and Grohl bounced across each end of the stage headbanging. Grohl seemed most psyched to be there out of anyone, letting out several throaty howls and leading huge sing-alongs on “My Hero” to “All My Life.” The set was heavy on their latest LP Wasting Light, including “Walk” and “These Days.” While fans raised their hands clapping during “Arlandria,” Grohl grinned. “If you had any fucking idea how beautiful that looks from here. . . .” he said.
Grohl seemed determined to savor every moment; at one point, he made it clear that this would be the band’s last show for a while. “I wish we could play all night – but I’d rather see Neil Young,” he said. “We don’t have any shows after this. This is where we play as many songs as we can in a short period of time, because, honestly, I don’t know when we’re gonna do it again.”
Young was also focused on the present, playing several new songs in a set that featured only two tracks released before 1989. It began with a heavy, nearly fifteen-minute jam on Ragged Glory’s “Love and Only Love,” with Young and guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro facing each other, playing blistering solos with punk attack. Young quickly launched into “Powderfinger,” full of twin-guitar mastery. He also went acoustic for moving versions of “The Needle and the Damage Done” and the new “Twisted Road.” “I’m remembering the first time I ever came here for an audition,” Young said of New York City before the twangy new “Born in Ontario.” “It’s a great place, even though I didn’t get it.”
Additional reporting by Griffin Lotz