The summertime British music scene is taken over by a series of festivals up and down the country; the biggest and most famous is Glastonbury, but the same weekend London’s Hyde Park holds the somewhat scaled-down (no sleeping over in tents) “Hard Rock Calling”. I arrived too late for the Pretenders, whom I had last seen play Radio City Music Hall in New York in, I think, 1984. The acts on offer meant that the crowd skewed toward the gray and/or bald, which put me reassuringly away from the upper age envelope. (Although it was a refreshing change to see people wearing Ramones t-shirts who could possibly have seen them live!) I made it in for Seasick Steve, fun in his cartoony way, and Ben Harper with his more antiseptic blues, We drank beer out of plastic bottles, huddled under umbrellas during the brief storm, and Fleet Foxes were lovely but a bit overmatched by the surroundings.
But Neil Young can handle a crowd of a few hundred thousand. Especially Neil Young with Crazy Horse, the hard rock version. So we got loud and crunchy with “Hey Hey, My My”, “Everyone Knows this is Nowhere”, “Cinammon Girl”, “Mansion on the Hill”, and an acoustic set with “Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”. Unlike The Who or the Stones, he hasn’t made himself irrelevant through a combination of prostitution and crappy music; with the exception of some 80s meanderings, his career doesn’t fit neatly into a few phases like Dylan; and unlike the members of the Beatles (more on them in a moment) he’s continued to produce great music even until now — although he probably hasn’t produced a masterpiece since Ragged Glory, his latest Fork in the Road shows him at his surly best. And after all these years, like his fellow headliner (in London and Glastonbury) Bruce Springsteen, despite all the complications, Neil Young still seems to believe in the power of rock ’n’ roll.
After a too-short main set proving the point with the anthemic “Rockin’ in the Free World” (with a half-dozen false endings for us to sing along to), I was hoping for an encore of “Powderfinger” (does anyone know what that song’s about, by the way?). But instead we heard the familiar opening to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” which I then remembered that he had been playing for the past year or so. Despite the context, it still surprised all of us when a figure joined Neil on stage for the middle eight: Paul McCartney. I’m pretty jaded about rock ’n’ roll by now, and the guy (McCartney) hasn’t written a great song in about 35 years, but the fucking hairs on the back of my neck stood up.