Dylan disappoints, but Neil stays Young forever

Bob Dylan at Hyde Park

Peter Foy celebrated a big birthday by seeing two rock giants live at Hyde Park. Here’s what he made of the performance

By Peter Foy

This year is a big one for me, since I’m celebrating a special birthday. My daughter, Steph, marked it by getting me tickets for the Bob Dylan and Neil Young concert in Hyde Park. Two of my heroes, it was a great gift. Six months of anticipation were finally realized on Friday.

When Neil Young took to the stage at, supported by Promise of the Real, I wondered if he would be able to roll back the years. The band opened with Mansion on the Hill and as the music filled the air I knew we were in for a treat. Young’s voice has worn well, and Lukas Nelson’s band is a superb successor to Crazy Horse.Neil Young at Hyde Park

As the set progressed, the 65,000-strong audience lapped it up. Every song was a crowd-pleaser, as familiar as a favourite denim jacket. By the time they played an acoustic Alabama we were all having a great time and when Neil took up his harpoon to introduce Heart of Gold the sing-along started in earnest.

The years hadn’t just been rolled back. I was transported to the time I first heard this music and the bizarre thing was that my eldest daughter was with me. I promise you there was no embarrassing dad dancing, but we shared a joy of being present at a very special gig. Steph had never experienced a concert where four electric guitars jammed together, and she loved it.

    "If he plays Ballad of a Thin Man, I'll be really happy."  

By the time we were being asked to keep on Rockin’ in the Free World, we needed no encouragement. And we still had Dylan to come!

“If he plays Ballad of a Thin Man, I’ll be really happy.” Steph and I were discussing which of the great man’s back catalogue we wanted to hear. I threw in Like a Rolling Stone to our dream set list and, like the 60-year-old man I now am, reminisced about the time I saw Dylan at Blackbushe in 1978.

Between the two sets we talked about Dylan and why we admired him. It was precious Dad and daughter time, anticipating something big. I relished every moment of it.

But here’s the thing: as a poet once said, anticipation can be sweeter than realization. Turns out she had a point.

Dylan didn’t so much make an entrance as appear. The lights came on and there he was, sitting at a piano. He looked to his band, nodded his head and the opening chords burst through the speakers. Ballad of a Thin Man.

I looked at Steph and smiled; joy unbounded. While Neil had taken a couple of songs to really get the crowd going, Dylan did it with two chords. This was a crowd-pleasing opener and we adored it.

“He’s going to give us the favourites,” said Steph, and she was right. Well almost right.

Second up was It Ain’t Me Babe, a classic. Every Dylan fan knows this song by heart, but at Hyde Park it was played to a new tune. No sing-along here. Highway 61 Revisited lifted our spirits, but it was still a new arrangement.

    "...if the song took on human form she would be an Amazonian warrior...now she wore a Laura Ashley print..."  

As the set progressed it began to resemble a round of One Song to the Tune of Another. Steph and I vied with each other to see who could recognize each song first: not what we had anticipated but still fun. Then disaster struck.

Like a Rolling Stone is more than just a song. Written in 1965, a century after the American Civil War and at the peak of the Civil Rights movement, it is a piece that challenges all that is wrong in society. Dylan once described it as an act of revenge. I’ve often thought that if the song took on human form she would be an Amazonian warrior, with a mane of free-flowing auburn hair, fighting for human rights and against all tyranny.

Now, though, she had a blonde bob, wore a Laura Ashley print dress and waited demurely to be told what to think. This wasn’t a re-write. It was an act of wanton vandalism!

We listened to the rest of the set, still trying to recognize our favourite tunes. We laughed a lot when it took us over a minute to work out that he was singing Blowin’ in the Wind. People have been criticising Dylan's live performances for over 50 years; he is what he is. Dylan.

As we left Hyde Park, reflecting on the disappointment, especially Rolling Stone, we noticed a large group of fellow giggers gathered around a busker. The young guy was singing Like a Rolling Stone and a few hundred of us joined in the chorus. It was an unexpected highlight of the evening.

Later, we decided that it had been a great day but that we would remember Hyde Park for Neil Young rather than Dylan.

As Dylan sung: Forever Young. Now there’s irony!

Published June 15, 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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