Bob Dylan and Neil Young take stage at Hyde Park for historic concert, Hyde Park, London.
Bob Dylan and Neil Young co-headlined the Great Oak stage of British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park on Saturday night, to make a memorable evening for all 65,000 fans.
For the majority of rockers, a double bill including Bob Dylan and Neil Young is no less than an event worthy of cherishing the memory of, for the rest of their lives. And, this turned out to be no exaggeration as the conclusion of the concert drew and enlightened grins were plastered on every fans’ mouths.
Young took the stage while the sun was still shining, beginning his set at 6:30 p.m, alongside his band Promise of the Real, of which is led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas. The timeless, perhaps most original Woodstock legend, appeared carefree as he did content, when he wandered on stage with his battered guitar; that was adorned in pacifism-driven stickers, featuring slogans such as “Ban the Bomb”. “I’ve never played in daylight before!” joked Young. “It’s great to see everybody.”
He kicked off the evening with Mansion on A Hill, setting the classic mien of his bill; mercilessly loud guitarship which hasn’t withered in quality or notability even slightly, despite him being seventy three years old, and his trademark raw, melancholy twinged vocals. His band either worked in complete harmony with him, or acted as an additional musical racket; both of which were spectacular to watch and hear. Young frequently turned his back to the audience whilst he connected face-to-face with his band; they huddled intimately as they jerked back and forth, seemingly electrified by the rhythmic racket which they made.
Despite Dylan no longer playing guitar live, and instead continuously opting for his piano and harmonica, the opposite could be said for Young, with the show clearly and enjoyably revolving around the instrument and its apparently endless possibilities. He and his band then jammed their way through the rest of the set, including “Country Home,” “Alabama” and “Walk On.” Midway through, he exchanged his battered Les Paul guitar for his acoustic one which set the tone for the next three tracks, “Heart of Gold,” “From Hank to Hendrix” and “Old Man,” with him visibly relishing in the immediate cascading crowd response. Before delving into his rendition of “Old Man,” the rock icon smirked, “You wanna hear another one on this?”
Just like his unchangingly skilled instrumentation, with even this being an understatement, the singer’s voice also proved to be unaged, with his cracked falsettos and the indescribable feeling of melancholy tenderness which accompanied his tracks back in the 90s, being apparent. The decades which have surpassed him have considerably left his voice sounding completely untouched; only wiser, and more raw, if any slight change was to be noted.
Surprisingly, his encore excluded Young’s arguably most well-regarded tracks “Hey hey, My my”, and “Harvest Moon”, with him instead opting for “Roll Another Number (For the Road)”, which led to a seemingly abrupt ending. “We’re supposed to be done,” he says, before geating up the band for an energetic thrash finale of “Piece of Crap” from Sleeps with Angels (1994).
Staring at Young in slight awe and slight shock, I thought, he shows no signs of slowing down whatsoever. And, his musical capabilities have certainly not been dampened by age.
Dylan, who rocked up an hour and 45 minutes later with a lack of fan-addressing or introduction, took a significantly contrasting tone. Where Young’s performance was alive and electric, and warmingly tender, with his guitar thrashing everywhere whilst it being a constant source of goosebumps and the odd tear in the eye, Dylan was reserved and stationary, the majority of the set consisting of songs which he’s been playing on his summer tour. Opening with “Ballad of a Thin Man,” he sat behind his grand piano, donning a sequined hat and pristine white jacket, and performed as if he was playing to a bunch of jazz enthusiasts rather than 65,000 people from all over the world who had come to see him. He incorporated a few favourites, such as “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Like a Rolling Stone,” but the most evocative moments were clearly felt when Dylan settled in to his more heartfelt tracks. “Girl From the North Country” took on a tender turn, pulling at our heartstrings, before he brought a melancholy tone to the classic “Love Sick” from 1997’s “Time Out of Mind.”
An unfortunate, but not unexpected occurrence throughout the gig, was the extent to which he had reworked many of his hits; in different styles, keys, and rhythms. At times, it was difficult to even decipher what song he was about to play, until a slightly familiar note kicked in. “Simple Twist of Fate” was an example of this; almost indiscernible, although it is sadly known as being common in Dylan’s live performances these days.
This acted as a slight barrier between the singer and the audience; with there being no collective singalongs, or even a feel of togetherness during his performance. Only during “Like A Rolling Stone” had fans managed to pluck up the courage to sing merely in harmony with each other.
Overall, he was unrecognisable. Emotionally detached, even, from both the crowd and his music. Yes, his harmonica playing capabilities are certainly impressive, considering his chain-smoking of Reynos for decades, but I think that it’s fair to say that he should just give up on his “Never Ending Tour” now. He’s 78. It’s about time.