REVIEW: The Music of Neil Young | The Human Highway

26 November 2021
The Quarry Amphitheatre

The Quarry is arguably Perth’s best outdoor venue to soak up all manner of performance, and  it was at its best with a clear sky, no breeze and temperatures in the low 20s on the night that The Human Highway took the stage to play the Music of Neil Young. More than 500 people filled the ampitheatre, turning up early to set up chairs, rugs, cushions and mountains of food and beverages. It was all very civilised for a bunch of baby boomers who probably weren’t so civilised when Neil Young and Carole King owned the airwaves in the 70s.

Supporting act Helen Shanahan eased the sold-out crowd into the 1970’s with a gentle exposé of Carole King’s best-known and hugely successful album Tapestry, which is celebrating 50 years since its release this year. Alongside Shanahan was Lee Jones on keyboard and Steve Hensby on guitar and backing vocals (and by far the best imitation of Carole King’s hair). Their performance, starting with “I Feel the Earth Move”, was melodious and often gentle. Interestingly, the only song not from Tapestry was the highlight of the set: the highly recognisable “Up on the Roof”, written by King and first released by the Drifters (and covered by a few dozen performers since). With Jones taking a break from the keyboard, Shanahan’s vocals and Hensby’s guitar shone through.

Helen was sweet and likeable, engaging the audience just enough between songs to keep a connection but not distract. Small snippets about King’s relationship with James Taylor, and the story of the Gilmore Girls’ theme song “Where You Lead”, was enough to assure the audience that she, Jones, and Hensby knew their stuff. The final song, “Natural Woman”, was a crowd favourite. No one would have objected to a few more Tapestry tunes, but with the headliners waiting in the wings, the support set closed with the sunset.

The Human Highway has an equally daunting job covering Neil Young’s extensive and illustrious music career. And the crowd – predominantly over 60’s – had high expectations. This was their youth! With more than a thousand Neil Young songs to choose from, The Human Highway did not fall into the trap of opting for the most popular. They played what gave them joy, and it showed. They opened with the 1979 song “Powderfinger”, which gave the audience its first taste of David Hyams‘s lead vocals successfully conjuring Neil Young. The six piece unit led by Hyams and Rose Parker (vocals and guitar) included skilled performers: bassist Roy Martinez (also taking on the keyboard), drummer Russell Wilson, Jeremy Threlfall on pedal steel/guitar, and Adam Gare on fiddle.

The instruments won the night. Martinez starred through “Alabama”, Parker’s vocals soared with “Motorcycle Mama”, Hyams’s harmonica was a highlight during “Heart of Gold”, Threfall’s pedal steel stood out on “Harvest Moon”, and every time Gare reached for the fiddle it was a treat. Closing out the set on “Hurricane”, the band looked like they could jam all night.

Neil Young’s creative journey, from folk, to country rock, to good ol’ rock’n’roll, and crazy grunge was showcased.  Die-hard Neil Young fans might have been disappointed that their favourite tune didn’t make the gig, but no one left without a song on replay in their head. The Human Highway has been playing Neil Young for seven years; they are still jamming and the tickets keep selling. Check out their Facebook page for more gigs.

In the words of Neil Young “Hey, hey, my, my. Rock and roll can never die”.