His grey hair blows wildly in the breeze. His dishevelled clothing suggests an eccentric who’s been around a very long time. There’s a determined expression on his face which suggests he may be old, but he’s not going anywhere soon…
But enough about the average Hop Farm punter – this, after all, is a day dominated by Neil Young. A new one day event, Hop Farm is geared towards the greyer pound, and is filled today with some quality traditional rock – there are fine sets from My Morning Jacket and Supergrass – but this is an event whose clientele have only one act in mind.
Neil, here playing to those, so it seems from a brief straw poll, who were unable to make it to his recent UK shows, does not disappoint. Using a similar stage set to his indoor gigs – the massive klieg lights, a cigar store Indian, an enigmatic illuminated code of letters and numbers arrayed on the backdrop behind him – this is a show of very different character.
Neil himself is wearing the now familiar paint-spattered Jackson Pollock suit, but the bemused eccentric tinkering with props that characterised those gigs is substituted for an unequivocal directness of approach. “Love And Only Love” opens a show which uses Neil’s heaviest guitar strafing to sandwich a set of softer, acoustic-based favourites.
Early surprises include a terrific outing for first album classic “I’ve Been Waiting For You” (“I don’t play this very often. I…don’t know why…”), a comparatively terse “Spirit Road” (“A new song, but it sounds just like the last one”), and a fiery “Fuckin’Up”. Effectively, this clears the stage for the quieter section of the show.
It’s here – with “Oh Lonesome Me”, a trip to the pipe organ for “Mother Earth”, then “Needle And The Damage Done”, “Heart Of Gold” and “Old Man”– that you’re reminded that alongside the occasionally Dylanesque performer who can throw bizarre setlist curveballs, there still exists the Neil Young who’s a master of judging the mood.
This selection of evergreen (i)Harvest(i)-based material also showcases the schizophrenic nature of Young’s band. Twenty minutes later they will be embarking on more scarifying noise adventure; right now they are simply perfectly harmonious.
If it’s a show that makes a huge success of this kind of juxtaposition, making it seem like the most natural thing in the world, the closing portion is interesting, if ever so slightly mystifying. After an epic voyage with “No Hidden Path”, a brief hiatus is followed by Neil’s take on The Beatles’ A Day In The Life.
Undoubtedly, it’s a kind of headline-grabbing statement – apparently on occasion Neil would play the song through the PA before he came onstage in the USA in the 1970s – but to carp in a minor way, the turn-on-a-sixpence nature of the song seems ill-suited to Neil’s behemoth sound.
Still, as a way of underlining a job well done, it’s about perfect. He’d love to turn you on. And, of course, he did.
Love And Only Love
Hey Hey, My My
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
I’ve Been Waiting For You
Oh, Lonesome Me
The Needle And The Damage Done
Heart Of Gold
Get Back To The Country
No Hidden Path
A Day In The Life