It’s not every day that two music heavyweights join forces for a co-headline of such relish, so it was no surprise that the festival crowd was plentiful at this sold out event. The very first person I saw on entering was my teenage hero Mike Peters of The Alarm who covered Neil Young’s Rocking In The Free World with such Welsh passion. Like us all, just another fan today for two monoliths of music.
Neil Young has a simple sparse stage set up with his wooden Indian statue ritually observing proceedings. Walking out he puts the crowd at ease with a smile and familiar dishevelled appearance, before launching into ‘Mansion on the Hill’ from his Crazy Horse days.
His trusted backing and recording band since 2015, Promise of the Real, are sensational musicians and you can feel the on-stage chemistry bubbling away from the start. The bassist could be Brad Pitt in Fight Club, similar sun-glasses and intoxicating charisma.
‘Heart of Gold’ is welcomed with a cheer, always a crowd pleaser, his one and only song to top the charts in the US and his native Canada, he’s never had a UK number one… yet.
Young strays from sweet acoustic to anarchic in two or three strums and is never happier then when engrossed in a guitar bashing jamming session. At times almost voyeuristic in passion and intensity as if we have been welcomed into private practise session, he can still make that guitar scream.
He roams the stage like a lion in the Serengeti sun, surely the best co-headline Bob Dylan will ever see. “Fantastic to see you all”, Young is a man of few words preferring to let the music talk. "Want another one on this?" brandishing his trusted acoustic as ‘Old Man’ follows. The hour and a half set closes on the extended version of ‘Rockin In The Free World’ to the delight of all. Back for an encore with ‘Like a Hurricane’ and the Hyde Park crowd still bathed in sunlight can ask for no more, at 73 he’s still as strong as an ox and leaves the stage beaming.
Bob Dylan has another no-frills stage set up with plain black backdrop and standing stage lights. ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ kicks off proceedings hidden for the most part behind his piano, placed straight on to the audience.
Something these two musical legends have in common is the harmonica. Wearing a grey sequined embellished cowboy jacket and hat ‘It Ain't Me Babe’ sees Bob blowing away as of old.
‘Like a Rolling Stone’ gets a reworking as do several of the classics. ‘Make You Feel My Love’ is barely recognisable and as for ‘Blowing In The Wind’ Dylan’s desire to suck the melody out of his own tunes baffles most of the audience. ‘Heart-breaking’ mumbled the man next to me. Yet most of the crowd are clearly in awe of this man come what may.
It’s fascinating what Dylan chooses to do. Sung like sneered spoken word poetry, is he just trying something different, should this be admired, 78 and still experimenting? Personally, I'm in the slightly disappointed camp but he's Dylan and his journey’s not yet through. Although some of the audience choose to end their night early, a marked stream of people to the exit.
The voice is clearly fading, but he looks like he’s having a blast, alert and happy. He appears several times from behind the piano striking ‘look at me I’m Dylan’ poses and why not. He clearly still relishes playing live, but the 10.15pm Friday night ending seemed a bit premature and no final encore with Neil Young. A great opportunity missed. Neither artist acknowledging the other.
Walking out there is a huge crowd gathered on the lawn around a busker playing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ in perfect early Dylan mode and he rightly receives the biggest cheer of the night. That just about summed up Dylan’s set for me. A night of uncompromising music.
Neil Young setlist - 5/5
1. Mansion on the Hill
2. Over and Over
3. Country Home
4. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
6. Walk On
8. Words (Between the Lines of Age)
9. Heart of Gold
10. From Hank to Hendrix
11. Old Man
12. Throw Your Hatred Down
13. Love and Only Love
14. Rockin' in the Free World
15. Like a Hurricane
16. I've Been Waiting for You
17. Roll Another Number (For the Road)
18. Piece of Crap
Bob Dylan setlist - 3/5
1. Ballad of a Thin Man
2. It Ain't Me, Babe
3. Highway 61 Revisited
4. Simple Twist of Fate
5. Can't Wait
6. When I Paint My Masterpiece
7. Honest With Me
8. Tryin' to Get to Heaven
9. Make You Feel My Love
10. Pay in Blood
11. Like a Rolling Stone
12. Early Roman Kings
13. Girl From the North Country
14. Love Sick
15. Thunder on the Mountain
16. Soon After Midnight
17. Gotta Serve Somebody
18. Blowin' in the Wind
19. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry