Saturday night, June 2nd, his acoustic guitar in hand, harmonica holder around his neck, dressed in faded jeans, an old t-shirt, and suspenders Andy Gabbard, lead singer of ROAD EYES quietly made his way on to the stage of Dayton’s Yellow Cab Tavern to come face to face with a crowd that clearly had high expectations. I having never seen Neil Young perform, but wanting to for as long I can remember, had high hopes of getting the chance to experience something that would be closer to the real deal than I have ever before. Others who were also present, like my parents and their friends, had fond memories of seeing Neil Young perform in their younger days and came hoping for the chance to get to relive a few of those memories. That night ROAD EYES, who, according to their Facebook page are the “3rd best Neil Young/Crazy Horse tribute band in the world!”, had a tall order to fulfill, but armed with the band’s dedication to doing Neil Young’s music the justice it deserved, it was an order that was destined to be filled.
Taking their name from the Jawa roadies or the “road eyes” from Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps era, ROAD EYES is a newer group that may have just tapped into a fan base much bigger than they could have originally imagined. Originally this project from a group of musicians who have been playing together for some time was supposed to be just one show that none of them thought would attract much interest. Well, that show ended up receiving a much better reception than what was originally expected, and ROAD EYES was born. The group is made up of talented longtime collaborating musicians that are in the words of lead singer Andy Gabbard, “always working on ways to keep it fresh and trying to do Neil justice.” ROAD EYES checks off many of the boxes that are needed to be a successful cover band.
Coming on to the stage without the rest of the band lead singer Andy Gabbard started off the show by paying tribute to a few of the more folk music influenced songs of Neil Young’s song catalog. ROAD EYES opened the show with “Sugar Mountain” and followed it up with the next two songs off Neil Young’s Live Rust tracklist, playing the songs just like they were on the album and taking no stylistic liberties with them at all. You could that he was concerned about playing the songs the way Neil Young would, and at one point he even made a joke about himself messing up a chord or two. This, in my opinion, set the stage very well for the rest of the show, because during those opening songs he sold himself to the crowd as a true Neil Young fan, and from that point on, any mistakes would be instantly forgiven. After rounding out the opening acoustic set with a rendition of “Old Man” it was time for him to grab his electric guitar and bring the rest of the band out.
For those of you who don’t know, Neil Young is and will always be the godfather of grunge, and with the full band on stage ROAD EYES showed the crowd that night exactly why that is. Whether it is was blowing the crowd away during “Cow Girl in the Sand”, or embracing the raw grittiness of “Powderfinger”, ROAD EYES showed they know how to rock and rock hard. To my delight not only did I get to hear a song I never thought to hear live and hear it done incredibly well, “Cortez the Killer”, it also turned out to be one of the lead singer’s favorite Neil Young songs to play too. As much as I enjoyed their acoustic set, electrically is where ROAD EYES shines. From old classics like “Like a Hurricane” to newer ones, well for Neil Young standards, like “Keep on Rocking in the Free world”, each song not just left the crowd’s ears ringing but left them more and more excited for the songs to keep coming. As much as the crowd would have loved to hear ROAD EYES rock out all night the show had to stop at some point and what better way to end it than an ear-shattering version of “Down by the River”.
Never seeing Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform myself, I do not know what the real thing is, and I know what I saw was not anything close to the real thing, but ROAD EYES was still one hell of a show. Not only was I impressed with how good they sounded, every single person I came with who has seen Neil Young himself perform was also impressed. Whether you are a Neil Young fan or not, if they are playing at a local venue near you, ROAD EYES are well worth seeing. Unfortunately, due to one of their member’s being out of the country for an extended period they will not be playing again until at least August, but when they do start playing again, and if you consider your self a Neil Young fan at all, you would be a fool to miss them.