The second live album released in Neil’s ongoing archive series, Live At Massey Hall 1971 is as excellent and essential as Live At The Fillmore East, and is that album’s polar opposite because this solo acoustic and piano performance shows Neil at his very best as a sensitive singer-songwriter whereas the prior full band effort focused on Neil the rampaging rocker.
Recorded in Toronto during his Journey Through The Past tour in between two of his most important and successful studio albums, Neil is treated by his enraptured audience like the hometown hero he is, though in truth the crowd applause probably should’ve been mixed down a bit since the hysteria seems oddly inappropriate given the intimacy of the performance. This is a nitpick, however, because on the whole the sound quality is superb, as Neil’s fragile high-pitched voice comes through crystal clear; I’m not sure if his voice has ever sounded better.
I can take or leave some of the between song banter, and I do miss the fuller fledged harmonies on some of the songs here, but the majority of these performances are first rate, and the song selection hits on most of his major songs (the biggest omissions are probably “Cinnamon Girl” and “Southern Man”) while being idiosyncratic enough (unsurprising for such a mercurial artist) to interest both casual and hardcore Neil Young fans (the latter of whom this release is more geared towards, naturally).
At the time of this performance, 8 out of the 18 songs here had yet to be released on a Neil Young album, including five from Harvest, which truth be told is somewhat diminished by this release, as the string-less versions of “A Man Needs A Maid” (with different lyrics here and done as a medley with “Heart Of Gold”) and “There’s a World” seem more fitting and are definite improvements. Elsewhere, Buffalo Springfield songs (“On The Way Home,” “I am a Child”) open and close the show, CSN&Y is represented by “Helpless” and “Ohio,” and less obvious selections come in the form of “Journey Through the Past,” “Love In Mind” (both later to appear on Time Fades Away), “See the Sky About to Rain” (later to appear on On The Beach), “Dance, Dance, Dance” (which had previously appeared on the self-titled Crazy Horse album), and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness,” which makes its first appearance on a Neil Young album here, though truth be told I can see why it hadn’t seen the light of day previously.
Elsewhere, stripped down acoustic renditions of “Cowgirl In the Sand” and “Down By The River” can’t compare to their electrified counterparts (that goes likewise for “Ohio”), but these are still good songs and these performances fit in naturally with the rest of the album. On the whole, though maybe it doesn’t offer anything new to the seasoned Neil Young fan, this was still a much welcome release because it reinforces what a terrific singer, songwriter, and performer Neil is, as the minimalist solo only approach works extremely well here.
Neil himself interestingly commented as follows: “This is the album that should have come out between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. David Briggs, my producer, was adamant that this should be the record, but I was very excited about the takes we got on Harvest, and wanted Harvest out. David disagreed. As I listen to this today, I can see why.”
Note: This album is also included as part of his The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972 9-cd box set released in 2009.
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.]
It never rains but it pours eh? A good decade and a half after taunting us with tales of boundless archive treats and multiple disc box sets Neil Young seems to have finally decided that we’ve been patient enough. Mere months after releasing the awesomely good Live At The Fillmore East (with Crazy Horse) he now brings us this historic gig from 1971 in its entirety. Boy, was it worth the wait…
Following the commercial highpoints of his stint with Crosby Stills and Nash and the platinum-selling After The Goldrush – this gig represents a triumphant homecoming of sorts. The excitement of the audience witnessing the local boy’s return is palpable, even when Young announces that he’s going to be doing a set mainly composed of new numbers! But what numbers they are.
His next album was to be his greatest commercial achievement (and ironically was to eventually force him onto a more challenging musical path) – Harvest. Stripped of either the country garage stylings of Crazy Horse or his more salubrious West Coast chums, these direct readings brim with the energy of a man hitting his songwriting zenith. Not only do we get early versions of classics such as ‘’Heart Of Gold’’ or ‘’Old Man’’ we hear songs that were either shelved for several years (‘’See The Sky About To Rain’’, ‘’Journey Through The Past’’ and ‘’Love In Mind’’) or simply never saw the light of day (‘’Bad Fog Of Loneliness’’).
Peppered with earlier material, even from his days with Buffalo Springfield, it fast becomes clear that this is no ordinary ‘unplugged’ experience. His approach to acoustic troubador chic had, by this point, been tempered by his membership of the West Coast royalty. Every chord and inflection contain the sun-drenched mellowness and harmonic sophistication associated with the period, but remain entirely Young’s due to his own gloomier perspective (‘I live on a ranch now…lucky me.’).
For all that, Young is obviously in fine spirits, joking with the crowd while still bringing a fiecre concentration to each number. The ringing applause prior to the encore of “I Am A Child” says it all, really. His producer, David Briggs, urged Young to release the gig instead of Harvest, and listening to it 35 years later, you can see why. This is the real Neil…
From Uncut magazine
The Neil Young goldrush started late last year with a 1970 set from the Fillmore East, and will climax in the autumn with Archives Part One, an 8CD box. For now, though, there’s this solo show, recorded in Toronto on the Journey Thru The Past tour (and set to be included in the Archives box), a long-time staple of Young’s bootleg catalogue.
In many ways, it’s the mirror image of the Crazy Horse-accompanied 1970 Fillmore electric rampage. After six years of hard work in America, Young was on the brink of superstardom thanks to his recent link-up with Crosby, Stills & Nash. The previous year’s release of CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Young’s own After The Goldrush had heightened the sense of expectation. Despite often wayward ill health, it was his season of intense creativity. Reminiscent of Dylan in his mid-‘60s heat, Young was practically pissing genius.
Consequently, a hail-the-conquering-hero atmosphere was evident in Toronto: the crowd break into applause when he gets to the “I’m going back to Canada” line in the middle of “Journey Through The Past”. Unknown to them, Young was in a back brace after a sustaining an injury moving timber at his ranch on a Christmas break. Certainly, no signs of any distress are evident in his superlative acoustic guitar and ol’ Mission Hall piano accompaniment. The relaxed, rambling intros suggest that herbal self-medication was on the agenda. And if so, it only seems to have helped him to focus on the music; once into a song, the hangdog hippy is banished and magic takes
hold, with Young attaining cinematic scope from minimal instrumental accompaniment.
His high-flown vocal navigates the upper register with an ease and daring which has, naturally, diminished over the years. Young’s late father, sports writer Scott, whose passing provided the inspiration for many songs on 2005’s Prairie Wind, attended the Concert, giving “Old Man” added poignancy – a great (surely Springsteen-inspiring) song about the father/son generation gap. “See The Sky About To Rain”, not released until 1975, is a special treat from the future, while “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is beautifully blitzed out. The segue from “A Man Needs A Maid” into “Heart Of Gold” is a perfectly plangent pop moment, “Ohio” is haunted and vexed, and “The Needle And The Damage Done’” comes dedicated to Danny Whitten.
But, really, the whole thing is faultless. With several songs in the set that were unreleased at the time, Young unsurprisingly demurred at producer David Briggs’ suggestion the show be issued before Harvest. No matter – 36 years on, it’s a still riveting performance.