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Comes A Time: Neil Young Hits Leeds

Neil Young is unashamedly one of my heroes.

I got to see him the other night. Leeds, First Direct Arena, and he was excellent, probably better than I'd dare expect.

I'd first come across him way back in 1971 when I got to hear 'After The Goldrush', which was full of some absolutely brilliant tracks. Tunes like the title track, 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', and 'Southern Man', which rapidly became favourites. Then 'Heart of Gold' came out as a single a few months later and I became a massive fan.

So, almost 45 years and countless albums later I finally got to see him live. Now I am spending more time watching live music than at any time since I was a student, it was a no-brainer when I first saw the tickets go on sale for the 'Rebel Content' tour.

I haven't got all his albums and some have been a bit hit and miss, but over the years he has come up with some absolute crackers - 'Time Goes By', 'Harvest Moon', 'Living With War', 'Tonight's the Night', 'Rust Never Sleeps' - the list goes on. He was back last year with a new young band, The Promise Of The Real, whose members include a couple of Willie Nelson's lads, and they released a great album, 'The Monsanto Years', in which the great man attacks GM crops and Starbucks, amongst other targets. This is not a man you will ever see settling for the cosiness of the cabaret circuit.

So it was somewhat surprising with him appearing with the band that only one of the 21 tracks performed on the night actually came from that album. That was 'Wolf Moon', a lovely ballad, but there was no place for my favourite from the album, the much rockier 'Big Box'.

I got in midway through support act Laura Marling's set, no slouch herself, but I must admit I had not caught much of her recent music. But she was very enjoyable for the half an hour or so I that I watched her.

After a short break, a couple of check-shirted, cowboy-hatted individuals appeared, scattering what appeared to be grain on stage, re-enforcing the eco warrior credentials. This is a man who cares about the planet and has got more passionate about it as he has got older. A few minutes later, Neil Young appeared, with trademark hat, headed over to the piano and played a note-perfect version of 'After The Goldrush', if you'd closed your eyes you could have been listening to the original recording.

And from there on we had a pretty gentle start with the likes of 'Heart of Gold', 'Comes a Time' and 'The Needle And The Damage Done', performed solo before the band appeared. And then we had some barnstorming performances of the likes of 'Down By The River' and 'Cowgirl In The Sand', long versions which just showed the quality of the band who were incredibly comfortable covering their leader's back-catalogue. Likewise, Neil Young has not lost any of his brilliance as a guitar player, or on the piano or harmonica.

They finished with an excellent version of 'Rockin' In The Free World', one of his best known songs, before they all returned to play an encore of a couple of songs, finishing with 'Fuckin' Up', just as I left to catch the last train home. It had been very much like a greatest hits show but as is inevitable with one who has such an extensive canon of work there are always going to be missing songs. He had included a very rare live performance of 'If I Could Have Her Tonight', but he'd not managed to play some of my favourites like 'Cinnamon Girl', 'Dreamin' Man', or 'Helpless'. But he had though played for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Not bad for a 70 year old, but, then again, only what you'd expect from a true hero....


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