No other generation is as closely associated with liberal social activism than the Woodstock set, so it was a mild surprise when Day 1 of Desert Trip — a stacked lineup of rock icons from the hippie generation — passed with nary a political statement (save, arguably, Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” closer).
But “Ohio” scribe Neil Young picked up the slack on Saturday (Oct. 8) night, taking a few swipes at beleaguered Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump while simultaneously referencing a classic rock album (yes, it was a peak liberal dad moment).
Nodding to Desert Trip’s Sunday night headliner Roger Waters, and Pink Floyd’s landmark LP The Wall, Young told the crowd, “Come back tomorrow night — Roger is gonna build a wall and make Mexico great again.”
Neil Young & Paul McCartney Jam Together at Desert Trip
After that, Young and his stylistically adept backing band Promise of the Real — a legit band in their own right lead by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson — launched into his grungy 1979 song “Welfare Mothers” with the tongue-in-cheek chorus, “Welfare mothers make better lovers.”
“That’s Donald Trump’s new campaign song,” Young quipped. “‘Welfare Mothers.’ You heard it here first, folks.”
Even though that Trump diss was the first contemporary political moment of the entire weekend, it didn’t sit well with everyone. “Save it, Neil,” one middle-aged man yelled.
Well, if that guy wanted Neil to stop talkin’ and start rockin’, he got his wish. But really, asking Neil Young to stop preaching and start singing is like telling a priest to stop sermonizing and get back to singing those Gospel songs. (Perhaps it just means this man has successfully listened to Neil Young songs for decades without ever listening to any of the lyrics.)
Desert Trip Day 1: Bob Dylan & The Rolling Stones
Case in point: Young’s next and last song was “Rockin’ In the Free World,” which now has additional lyrics to reflect contemporary concerns:
Got a water cannon for the standing man
Got misinformation from the corporation
In the endless search for a drop of oil
People’s lives get shattered while we suck it from the soil
Gotta show the children
We just don’t care
So we keep on burning it
And put it in the air
So yes, the disgruntled ‘shut up and play the hits’ dude got his rock fix — and a helpful lesson about blood-for-oil wars in the process.
Elsewhere in the night, Young sang four newer songs, some of them inspired by the ongoing Native American protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. He also extended “Down By the River” to a bone-crushing 22 minutes, and tweaked the lyrics of “After the Gold Rush” to reflect contemporary environmental concerns. Later in the night, Young joined Saturday night headliner Paul McCartney for a three-song collaboration — read all about that here.
Check out his full Desert Trip set list below.
After the Gold Rush
Heart of Gold
Comes a Time
Out on the Weekend
Words (Between the Lines of Age)
Down By the River
Rockin’ in the Free World