Bob Dylan has invited only a tiny handful of guests onto his stage over the past decade, and Neil Young became one of them at a co-headlining show in Kilkenny, Ireland, this past Sunday evening. It happened midway through Dylan’s set when Young came out to perform the folk classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” Coincidentally or not, they played the same song together in 1975 during their first onstage collaboration at Bill Graham’s 1975 SNACK benefit in San Francisco.
They played together again at “The Last Waltz” the following year, the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert in 1992, and the Roseland Ballroom in 1994. But their most significant performances together came during Dylan’s very first shows on his ongoing Never Ending Tour in June 1988. At the time, both artists were managed by the late Elliot Roberts and the first show happened to be taking place at California’s Concord Pavilion, not far from Young’s home. He was on break between legs of his Bluenotes tour and decided to stop by.
“Neil drove up in his Cadillac convertible,” tour manager Richard Fernandez told Young biographer Jimmy McDonough, “his Silvertone amp in the back.” The fact that he’d never performed songs like “Boots of Spanish Leather,” “In the Garden,” and “Gotta Serve Somebody” didn’t deter him in the slightest, and he blissfully played along to everything, adding in impromptu little solos wherever he could. “That’s Neil Young on the guitar,” Dylan said near at the end of the first night. “Give him a hand!”
“Neil took over the whole show,” Roberts told McDonough, noting that Dylan was a little unsure after the first night if Young should carry on with them to the next gig until he burst into the dressing room. “Great show!” Young said to Dylan. “See you tomorrow night, Bob?” Dylan relented and Young joined the band again that week in Berkeley and Mountain View before heading home.
Here’s fan-shot footage of “Gates of Eden” that appears to be from the Berkeley show on June 10th, 1988. It’s more than a little blurry and the sound isn’t pristine, but it gives you a decent idea of what the performance looked like. In his wildest dreams, Young couldn’t have imagined that he was guesting on the first week of a tour that would still be going more than 30 years later. There are no future dates on the books now, and on the off chance that Dylan does decide it’s time to end the tour, it’s appropriate that Young was there for the last night, bringing the whole thing full circle. But it’s much more likely that another leg will be announced in the coming weeks and Dylan will be on the road well past his 80th birthday in 2021.