The time it has taken for Neil Young‘s colossal archive of live material to be given official release is unholy and obscene, but this year sees everything come at once.
This is the second of Reprise’s Archive Performance Series, following last year’s Live At The Fillmore, and is an appetiser for the grand eight CD, two DVD Archives Volume One ‘audiobiography’ that is released later this year.
Recorded in 1971, this concert in Young’s native Canada catches him riding on the success of After The Goldrush, and tinkering with material for what would become Harvest.
As always with Young, his zest is most palpable when performing new material. From the infamous Tonight’s The Night tour of 1975 through to the slightly bamboozling Greendale tour of 2002, his heart on the night will always be with his current project. And so it is that at Massey Hall the most passionate, pained and heartfelt songs are those from the impending Harvest.
In particular, Old Man is sung with all the fear and helplessness that its composition was meant to convey, before playing it several thousand times in encores sucked the life out of it. The same goes for The Needle and the Damage Done. They never sounded so good.
Anyone familiar with Buffalo Springfield‘s 1968 album, Last Time Around, will know that On The Way Home, a Young song, was ruthlessly Beatle-ised by gormless LA record executives who upped the tempo, put in backing vocals and gave the lead to Richie Furay. Here (and on Four Way Street, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young live album) is what it was supposed to sound like, with Young typically bemused by the world, slow and sparse. He obviously had a bee in his bonnet about the song for some time, and its pretty safe to say over the years he has made it his own again.
Material from his early solo albums such as Cowgirl In The Sand, See The Sky About To Rain and Down By The River, plus those classics from After The Goldrush are faithfully rendered, if lacking the same intensity of the fresh songs. Tracks that never made it to any official studio release are, of course, of a sublime standard, particularly Dance Dance Dance and Love In Mind. The seething ‘protest song’ against the killing of students at Kent State University that is Ohio, I don’t care how or where or when he plays it, puts the lump of revolution in even the most cynical of throats.
Young’s between song banter is a telling insight into his notoriously eclectic personality. He is reserved, vague and disinterested when introducing songs and rambling with anecdotes, but of puritanical conviction when giving a bollocking to a photographer whose snapping puts him off during Tell Me Why.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s more than worth it. Live albums are, of course, erratic by nature, but this one is perfect, because there were about a dozen points in Young’s career, 1971 being one of them, when everything he did was fused with his electrifying genius (as electrifying as one man and an acoustic guitar can get anyway, and in this case its quite a bit).
With a back catalogue so massive that casual fans can be selective about which Young albums they go for, this is an essential addition to the record collection of not just them, but anyone with a passing interest in music in the 20th century. Neil Young is a staple in our diet. The legacy is huge.