It was November 2019 when Jeff (Rosenstock) and Laura (Stevenson) unexpectedly released an EP of Neil Young covers called Still Young on Polyvinyl Records. At the time, Rosenstock stated that although he’d always considered Young to be an artist that he “should” like, he’d never really spent much time with his catalog. That is until his friend and sometimes collaborator Laura Stevenson encouraged him to do so. The resulting four song EP turned out to prove that Rosenstock’s sometimes scraggly voice was quite well suited to Young’s tunes, and of course Stevenson on the sweeter lead vocals, as well as harmonies, made this an ideal project. Anyway, we got a small glimpse as to what they could do with this material live when the duo did their duets of “Through My Sails” and “Harvest Moon” at Rosenstock’s December 2019 residency at Trans-Pecos.
Subsequently, Rosenstock moved to LA, Stevenson started a family and the world came to a stand still for nearly two years. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue and into the black (bonus points if you see what I did there), the two dropped a second EP of Young covers to the complete surprise of their fans. Younger Still arrived on streaming services in November of this year and with it, news of an impending limited run tour was announced. Hitting select cities on the West Coast first, then the Midwest and finally the North East, Rosenstock and Stevenson planned to do a duets tour combining the Young material along with individual solo nuggets from each of their catalogs.
The shows in LA, San Francisco and Joshua Tree went off perfectly only to have Stevenson subsequently come down with Covid and the Midwest portion of the tour having to be postponed. (Those dates have since been rescheduled for February.) Fortunately though, last weekend’s North East segment of the tour went off without a hitch, playing Boston, NY, Philly and Woodstock on consecutive nights. On this leg they were joined by opening act Gladie.
Speaking of Gladie, their opening set was a perfect prelude for Rosenstock and Stevenson. They released their second LP Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out last month and if you haven’t heard it yet, what are you waiting for? It’s fantastic. Augusta Koch and Matt Schimelfenig have hit it out of the park with this on; It’ll most certainly be in my 2022 top 10 for the year. Joined on stage on bass for this show was Koch’s friend and former bandmate in Cayetana, Allegra Anka. After opening up their set with “When You Leave The Sun” from 2020’s debut LP Safe Sins, Koch and the rest of Gladie ripped through a healthy dose of material off of the new one culminating with a rocking hard version of “Born Yesterday.” I’ve had the pleasure to catch Gladie a handful of times this year and their progression as a unit is mind blowing. By all means you all should be paying attention to this band.
After a brief break between sets (which saw Rosenstock and Stevenson doing their own setup on stage), the two came out to the walk up sounds of South Park’s Eric Cartman’s rousing rendition of “O Holy Night.” Following some tuning and a little back and forth banter, the two started things up with what I find to be the most interesting of their Neil Young covers. (Full disclosure…I am a full on Neil geek. I consider him amongst the Pantheon of songwriters, so I am by no means objective when it comes to his body of work). “Razor Love” is a relatively obscure lilting love tome from Young’s 2000 release Silver and Gold. With the opening drum machine beats and Rosenstock’s strained upper register on the opening verse followed by Stevenson’s gorgeous harmonies on the chorus, it was very clear from the get go that we were in for quite a treat.
Without missing a beat, the pair went right into “Comes A Time,” the same segue which they use on the EP. Picking the vibe of the room up at least a notch, by the time the first chorus of “oh this old world keeps spinning ‘round” kicks in, the entire venue was singing along. Now, for anyone who’s ever been to a Rosenstock show, the crowd singing along to every word should come as no surprise. But this was a Neil Young song being serenaded back, not Rosenstock’s own lyrics. Not only that, but this song was clearly written and originally released years before most of this crowd was even a glimmer in their parent’s eyes. So that was pretty cool. By the way, Stevenson absolutely NAILED the original vocal harmonies which were initially sung by Nicolette Larson on Neil’s Comes A Time album. (I warned you about my Neil geekiness.)
Next up we would get Rosenstock’s “9/10,” his “classic” from 2018’s POST–, with its love song lament of riding the subway stoned “thinking of you.” Of course Stevenson sang on the original album version so no surprises there as to her harmonies. She would then pull one out of the deep cuts bag of tricks with “A Shine To It” off of her 2010 album, thoughtfully called A Record. The duo would follow this recipe of doing two Neil tunes followed by a Jeff song and a Laura song, rinse and repeat. Ultimately we would get to hear all eight of the songs from the two Neil Young EPs.
I would also be totally remiss if I didn’t bring up the stage banter that would persist throughout the evening. Stage banter which I can honestly say was almost as entertaining and important to the overall show as the actual music itself. This duo has known each other for a very long time after all, going back to their teenage years in Long Island. They know and appreciate each other as only life long friends can. The back and forth between them throughout the evening was oftentimes hilarious. It was slapstick comedy right out of the Burns and Allen mold to the point I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if they closed the evening off with Jeff calling across the stage to Laura, ‘Say good night Laura.” For those of you who don’t know who or what I’m talking about, Google that shit.
The main set would conclude with a couple of vintage Young tunes from the mid 70’s, “Through My Sails” from Zuma and the epic “Ambulance Blues” from On The Beach. Upon leaving the stage the crowd immediately began chanting like it normally would at a sporting event. Except in this case instead of “LET’S GO SO AND SO!” it was “HEALTHY BABY!” a reference to a comment that Stevenson had made earlier in the show that after all of them (herself, husband and baby) having Covid, they were all healthy now. Nonetheless, this chant brought the duo out again pretty quickly, both with embarrassed smiles plastered to their faces.
And the adoring crowd were treated to a two song encore which I’m not sure anyone would have guessed. First up it was a blast from the past with Bomb The Music Industry’s “Wednesday Night Drinkball” followed by “Rockin’ In The Free World” which just might be one of the most perfect encore closers ever written. It was also the only Neil Young tune performed which was not part of either of the EPs. All in all what a wonderful evening of true friendship, fantastic camaraderie, funny rambling banter and most of all, beautiful music.
Scroll down for setlist, fan shot vids, pics of the show (photos by Ray Rusinak)
Setlist: Razor Love*, Comes A Time*, 9/10+, A Shine To It^, After the Gold Rush*, Hey Babe*, Living Room NY^, The Beauty of Breathing+, Harvest Moon*, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere*, Emily In Half^, All Ages Shows%, Through My Sails*, Ambulance Blues* Encore: Wednesday Night Drinkball%, Rocking’ In the Free World*
*Neil Young cover
+Jeff Rosenstock original
^Laura Stevenson original
% Bomb The Music Industry! original
From Philly 12/17/22
JEFF ROSENSTOCK & LAURA STEVENSON