The second volume of Neil Young's long-promised, suddenly thriving Archives series is Live at Massey Hall, preserving a 1971 acoustic show at the Toronto venue. Where the first volume captured a portion of Neil's past that wasn't particularly well documented on record -- namely, the rampaging original Crazy Horse lineup in its 1970 prime -- this ...
The second volume of Neil Young's long-promised, suddenly thriving Archives series is Live at Massey Hall, preserving a 1971 acoustic show at the Toronto venue. Where the first volume captured a portion of Neil's past that wasn't particularly well documented on record -- namely, the rampaging original Crazy Horse lineup in its 1970 prime -- this second installment may seem to cover familiar ground, at least to the outside observer who may assume that any solo acoustic Young must sound the same. That, of course, is not the case with an artist as mercurial and willful as Young, who was inarguably on a roll in 1971, coming off successes with Crazy Horse, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and his second solo record, 1970's After the Gold Rush. The concert chronicled on Live at Massey Hall finds Neil dipping into these recent successes for material, as he also airs material that would shortly find a home on 1972's Harvest in addition to playing songs that wouldn't surface until later in the decade -- "Journey Through the Past" and "Love in Mind" wound up on 1973's Time Fades Away, "See the Sky About to Rain" showed up on 1974's On the Beach -- and then there's two songs that never showed up on an official Neil Young album: the stomping hoedown "Dance Dance Dance," which he gave to Crazy Horse, and "Bad Fog of Loneliness," which gets its first release here. This is a remarkably rich set of songs, touching on nearly every aspect of Young's personality, whether it's his sweetness, his sensitivity, his loneliness, or even his often-neglected sense of fun. True, the latter only appears on "Dance Dance Dance," but that comes as a welcome contrast to the stark sadness of "See the Sky About to Rain." But even if "Down by the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" retain their intense sense of menace when stripped of the winding guitar workouts of Crazy Horse, this concert isn't dominated by melancholy: it's a warm, giving affair, built upon lovely readings of "Helpless," "Tell Me Why," "Old Man," and an early incarnation of "A Man Needs a Maid" (here played as a medley with "Heart of Gold") that removes the bombast of the Harvest arrangement, revealing the fragile, sweet song that lies underneath. While this concert isn't as freewheeling and rich as Young's studio albums of the early '70s -- each record had a distinctive character different from its predecessor, thanks in part to producer David Briggs, arranger/pianist Jack Nitzsche, and Young's supporting musicians, including Crazy Horse or the Stray Gators -- it nevertheless captures the essence of Neil Young the singer and songwriter at his artistic peak. That's the reason why this concert has been a legendary bootleg for nearly four decades and why its release 36 years after its recording is so special: it may not add an additional narrative to Neil Young's history, but it adds detail, color, and texture to a familiar chapter of his career, rendering it fresh once more. No wonder Briggs wanted to release this concert as an album between After the Gold Rush and Harvest: it not only holds its own against those classics, it enhances them. [Live at Massey Hall was also released as a two-disc set that contained a CD of the show and a DVD containing the same concert in high fidelity audio.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi