Monday, October 22, 2007

album of the day

Live At Massey Hall 1971 by Neil Young.

Part of the massive series of reissues from Young's archives, this is the second album released as a teaser for the gargantuan 8-CD box set. This catches Young at an absolutely pivotal moment in his career - After The Gold Rush had come out the year before and kicked off his solo career after his various successes with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and this tour saw him previewing songs that would appear on Harvest, the 1972 album that briefly made him a global superstar.

It's a sparse acoustic concert, basically just Young accompanying himself on either guitar or piano. Considering the vintage of the recording the sound quality is astonishing; either they wheeled in a high-tech set of kit for the original concert, or they've done a state-of-the-art digital post-production clean-up job, because it's pin-sharp throughout.

As for the songs: in typically perverse style the majority of the songs performed here would have been unfamiliar to the audience at the time, but he was banging them out faster than he could commit them to record - as he himself says in the preamble to Journey Through The Past:
I'm going to sing mostly new songs tonight....I've written so many new ones that I....can't think of anything else to do with 'em other than sing 'em.
A number of the new songs turned up on Harvest, including some gems like Old Man and The Needle And The Damage Done, though no amount of acoustic stripping-down and reinvention can disguise the fact that A Man Needs A Maid is a rotten song, and There's A World isn't much better. A couple of the others sound better in their original studio incarnation: take away the meandering electric guitar excursions from Down By The River and there isn't really much of a song left, and See The Sky About To Rain isn't quite the same without the gorgeous Wurlitzer electric piano accompaniment it came with when it finally saw the light of day on On The Beach in 1974.

Those minor quibbles aside it's straight aces all the way: On The Way Home, Tell Me Why, Journey Through The Past, Helpless, the previously unreleased Bad Fog Of Loneliness, Ohio, I Am A Child. If you want an introduction to Young's acoustic troubadour incarnation, this wouldn't be a bad place to start. The beauty of Young's career, though, is his absolute refusal to do what the public, his fans and the critics might want or expect him to do; Exhibit A in this respect is the dark, noisy, messy album Time Fades Away he released as the follow-up to Harvest, thus quite calculatedly and deliberately alienating his new-found mainstream audience, or, as he put it:
[Harvest] put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.
Young Mark II is the lumberjack-shirt-clad rocker grinding out long, slow, ramshackle rock epics with his legendary backing band Crazy Horse. Here's a good example: Like A Hurricane from Hammersmith Odeon in 1976.

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