Neil Young, Fleet Foxes + Mumford & Sons @ Hard Rock Calling - Hyde Park, London - 27/6/09
01 Jul 2009
"one thing that struck me (which thankfully wasn't a flying bottle) was the youthfulness which young still exhibits during his performances. he certainly looks a lot older now but i swear when he gets on stage and starts to play it's like the music possesses him and transforms him into a twenty something..."
Fresh from a headline slot at Glastonbury the previous evening, Neil Young walked onto the enormous Hyde Park stage to a sea of adoring fans stretching as far back as the eye could see, some old enough to have seen him in the 60's, some not even born at the time Harvest Moon was released.
Armed with his trusted and battered Les Paul guitar 'Old Black' and wasting no time he launched straight into 'Hey Hey, My My' ('79) declaring "My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It's better to burn out/Than to fade away" making the hairs on the back my neck stand up, it was quite possibly one of the best opening songs I've ever heard. The audience sang along while jostling to catch a glimpse of the stage and the man himself.
The set list was loaded with classics including 'Mansion on the Hill' ('90), 'The Needle and the Damage Done' ('72), 'Heart of Gold' ('72) and one my personal favourites 'Unknown Legend' ('92). The slightly self indulgent guitar solo ending on 'Down by the River' ('69) was probably my least favourite moment but this was followed by the catchy 'Get Behind the Wheel' ('09) so all was quickly forgiven. Slightly disappointed he didn't play 'Harvest Moon' ('92) but in hindsight I think he got the balance between acoustic and electric just right.
I was reasonably well controlled up until the opening bars of 'Rockin in the Free World' ('89) when my arms automatically sprung into the air and, well, my throat is still sore now! What I wasn't expecting was the five or so extra choruses Young kept coming back with after I thought the song had finished; it was like having your birthday over and over, he was playing with us and enjoying every moment.
The pumped up crowd was shouting "Neil, Neil, Neil" as he left the stage and although I was convinced that would not be the end I was slightly alarmed when the stage crew began to pack away monitors. We waited for what seemed an eternity before he reemerged and began singing Beatles cover 'A Day in the Life'. As the crowd sang along, Paul McCartney casually walked onto the stage which I don't think anyone was expecting and began singing into the same microphone as Young. A real Beatle singing a Beatles song was quite a treat. They ended the song playing a few notes on the xylophone together and then the show was really over.
One thing that struck me (which thankfully wasn't a flying bottle) was the youthfulness which Young still exhibits during his performances. He certainly looks a lot older now but I swear when he gets on stage and starts to play it's like the music possesses him and transforms him into a twenty something. At one point during the show he was playing his guitar so hard his shirt ended up hanging on by one sleeve and remained there for a good few songs. It's an amazing thing to watch someone so invigorated by music, he looks like there is nothing else in the world he should be doing. His voice has also stood the test of time sounding as good as ever but I do wonder how long 'Old Black' will last if he keeps ripping the strings off it with such vigour!
It's not every day you get to watch a legend perform and when you do, more often than not, their best performances are a thing of the past. Neil Young's breed of rock defies such beliefs and I challenge anyone who has experienced any of his recent live shows to disagree.
[Set List: Hey Hey My My / Are You Ready For The Country? / Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Spirit Road / Words / Cinnamon Girl / Mother Earth / The Needle and the Damage Done / Comes a Time / Unknown Legend / Heart of Gold / Down By the River / Get Behind the Wheel / Rockin' in the Free World / A Day in the Life]
I also managed to catch performances by Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons.
The Fleet Foxes looked and sounded great. Their harmonies were note perfect as they sang their way through most of the songs from their self titled debut album. I still find it shocking that lead singer Robin Pecknold is only 23 years old, where and when did he learn to be so calm in front of thousands of people? My highlights included 'White Winter Hymnal', still by far my favourite song of theirs and 'Your Protector', both sounded sublime. I was a little disappointed they didn't play 'Tiger Mountain Peasant Song' but witnessing the perfect ness of Pecknold's teeth on the huge screen somehow made up for that. I'm still not sure their sound is suited to such large open air gigs but a great effort all the same.
This was Mumford and Sons' biggest concert yet and considering most people in the crowd had never heard of them before Saturday, I think it's fair to say their blend of folksy Americana music was well received. They played mostly songs from their first three EPs with a couple of new songs from their soon to be released first album. My highlights included the catchy 'Little Lion Man' and the last song of their set 'Dust Bowl Dance' during which singer Marcus banged the hell out of his drums causing the microphones to fall over. I've now seen Mumford & Sons five times during the last six months and I still think they sound so much more impressive live than on record. I highly recommend trying to get to one of their shows this summer.