Bob Dylan and Neil Young, BST Hyde Park review - flat-out brilliant and strangely compelling
The Godfather of Grunge knocks it out of the park, while Uncle Bob serves up more challenging fare
It was billed as a moment of musical history: two of the great icons of rock'n'roll sharing a double-headline. A dream ticket. Except, of course, everyone knows that only one of the two acts is still a conventional performer. And it's not Bob Dylan.
Throughout the afternoon men in old tour t-shirts discussed concerts they'd seen and wondered what might be in store today. The sun was shining and a cool breeze blowing. If there was one thing everyone could agree on it was that Young was going to be ace.
He arrived on stage a little after 6 (there were bands playing all afternoon) wearing his trademark check shirt, hat and shades and looking nothing like his 73 years. Without any preamble, the band launched into a high-octane rendition of "Mansion on the Hill". Attacking his Gibson with furious abandon Young seemed every inch the Godfather of Grunge.
Over the next 17 songs, we saw examples of all his other musical personas. There was the Canyon hippie ("Heart of Gold" "Old Man") the guitar hero ("Words") and the country rocker ("Walk On" and "Like a Hurricane"). Throughout, Young shuffled, grimaced and threw poses. The simple stage featured his trademark totem pole and a large swinging eagle.
The band rarely took their feet off the gas. On "Rocking in the Free World" they pushed the sound system right to its limit. The bandleader Lukas Nelson, looking remarkably like his dad Willie Nelson, traded licks with Young and the wild-eyed drummer Anthony LoGerfo was clearly having the time of his life.
The crowd were too. For two hours aging rockers punched the air, and couples swayed. It was hard to see what Dylan (78) could possibly do to follow that.
For a moment, though, it looked like he might pull off something extraordinary. Bob hit the stage at a quarter to nine, dressed in a silver jacket and cowboy boots. He smiled, leant over a grand piano and started on an otherworldly reading of "Ballad of a Thin Man". His backing band played with brooding precision. The vocals were half-spoken and faintly apocalyptic. It was brilliant. It was also probably the best thing he did all night.
For most of the set Dylan just sat behind his piano, grinning and sounding like a lounge singer with a throat infection. Sometimes it was charming. "When I Paint My Masterpiece" had a pastoral feel and "Highway 61 Revisited" was full of energy. But songs such as "Simple Twist of Fate" which rely on melody made little sense.
The crowd started to split into factions. Diehard Dylanologists were determined to see creative genius in every unrecognisable song. Others were simply bemused. When Bob butchered "Like a Rolling Stone" the man beside me said he felt like going home. And yet, every time things felt like they were bottoming out, a twinkle would appear in Bob's eye and flashes of brilliance would shine through. Like the funky "Can't Wait" or the thumping "Thunder on the Mountain".
It was virtually impossible to make sense of it all. Still, isn't that the point of Dylan concerts these days? Everyone knows the music is going to be challenging. The fun is in the unpredictability. As the evening ended and 65,000 people filed out, a consensus seemed to have finally been reached: Neil Young had been flat-out brilliant and Dylan, strangely compelling.