Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

neil-young-crazy-horse-live-at-the-fillmore-east-200g-vinyl-lp-122-pFrom uncut.co.uk

In the continuing absence of Neil Young’s “Archives”, we clutch at any morsels dispensed from the great man’s table. Long a live bootleg classic – as well as being the source of “Tonight’s The Night”’s “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” – Neil’s March 1970 sets at the Fillmore East showcased the rising star of grungy country rock in the company of the band that helped him find his musical feet on 1969’s cracklingly great “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”.

The title track of “Everybody Knows” is the opening one here and immediately sets the tone for “Live at the Fillmore East”: the loosely funky 4/4 groove patented by drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, the wiry guitar interplay between Young and junkie henchman Danny Whitten, the half-assed barrelhouse piano contributed by the curmudgeonly Jack Nitzsche (introduced by Young as hailing from New Mexico rather than his native Michigan).

“Fillmore East” is most famous for the long jams on two “Everybody Knows” epics. “Down By The River” consists pretty much of two chords in the service of heads-down trance – imagine Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” fused with the horns-locked CSNY intensity of “Long Time Gone”. The difference here is that Whitten simply complements Young’s livid, splayed extemporizations rather than (a la Steve Stills) attempting to upstage and drown them out.

“Cowgirl In The Sand” can also be whittled down to two lopingly grungy chords and similarly offers a vehicle for long, needly guitar lines that wind their way round Whitten’s rhythm strumming. If you love Young’s playing, you could listen to his intense sustain and sputtering attack all night.

“Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”, sung by its co-author Whitten with a blue-eyed-soul larynx that could be Stephen Stills fronting Moby Grape, is a smack classic that prefigures the unfortunate demise of the former Rocket. Young and Billy Talbot yelp along in a manner more akin to Flo & Eddie than Danny & the Memories. Young included it on “Tonight’s The Night” as a kind of memorial plaque to the guitarist he’d axed on the eve of the “Time Fades Away” tour.

That leaves “Winterlong”, unreleased in its studio incarnation until 1976’s “Decade”, and “Wonderin’”, introduced by Young as a track from “our new album” but unreleased in studio form until 1983’s “Everybody’s Rockin'”. The former is a cult favourite among Neilheads but to these ears remains melodically banal; the latter has a clipped country feel that did not survive its metamorphosis into a Shocking Pinks track.

Nevertheless, live ‘70s rock doesn’t come much better than NY in NYC. An album of rough beauty and electric density, “Fillmore East” captures the formerly frail troubadour at his most fired up.

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March 7, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

neil-young-crazy-horse-live-at-the-fillmore-east-200g-vinyl-lp-122-pFrom sputnikmusic.com

While 1970 was a busy year for Neil Young, he found the time to squeeze in two dates at the Fillmore East with hard rock/country outfit Crazyhorse between touring and recording with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

His appearance at the Fillmore was divided into two segments. One night he played solo, accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar but don’t look for that here. In this album, he straps on the Les Paul and joins Crazyhorse onstage for a night of hard-rocking, twelve minute songs. Dueling distorted guitar solos with Crazyhorse guitarist Danny Whitten, Young cranks up the gain and let’s loose some of his best material. From the brief “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” to the sixteen-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand,” Young shows that one note never sounded so good.

The album kicks off with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, a catchy song about escaping the norm of everyday life and boredom. Whitten and Young share vocals on this song, the guitar work is great, no solo, but there will be plenty to come. Overall, a solid opener to a great album.

Next up is Winterlong, which features great lyrics, like the last song, if just a little sappy. The solo, which mainly follows the vocal melody, isn’t all that spectacular, but still sounds good. At about the 2:20 mark in the song, there’s a little chord progression that sounds out of place, but that’s about as sloppy as they get on this album, even with all the improvisational solos on Cowgirl in the Sand. A good song, if a little repetitive.

Down by the River follows, the crowd cheers after the first chord as this is one of Young’s best, and most recognizable songs. Already a lengthy song in the first place, Down by the River is extended by a couple of minutes as Young and Whitten both add extra improvisations to their solos. While it doesn’t feature Young’s most imaginative lyrics, around the two minute mark, Young embarks on one of his trademark idiosyncratic solos, unintentionally giving birth to grunge in the process. After a couple of minutes, Whitten joins him for a bit then the band kicks into another verse. After the song’s signature refrain: Down by the River/I shot my baby, Young and Whitten embark on a journey into the far reaches of one-note solo paradise. The guitar interplay is fantastic on this song. Probably the second best song on this album and one of the best in Young’s repertoire.

The band turns down the distortion on Wonderin’, a new song (at the time.) The guitar is repetitive but the lyrics are catchy. If anything, the song is too short. It’s listed as over three and a half minutes but about a minute and a half of that is Neil Young talking about the next song and introducing Crazyhorse. From there they go into their next song Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown, which is the weakest song on the album. The guitar work is good but I’m not that huge of a fan of Danny Whitten’s voice, as Young only does background vocals on this song. But it also took me a while to listen to Neil Young’s voice so this could be my favorite song next week.

Cowgirl in the Sand is by far the best song on the album. Extended six minutes past its original length, this song literally kicks ass. The guitar interplay is phenomenal. It begins with a dueling guitar intro, before Young begins singing. After the first verse, Whitten provides the song’s signature riff and from there it’s solos galore, with Young and Whitten trading solos, doubling each others solos, and throwing down the dueling leads reminiscent of many southern rock bands to come. This song is a great closer to one of the best albums of the year.

In my opinion, Neil Young was at his best with Crazyhorse. No matter how many albums he makes solo or with different groups, I will always think his material with Crazyhorse will be his best and this album proves that. There’s two Neil Young’s, I like to call them Electric Neil and Acoustic Neil, if you’re a fan of Electric Neil, this album is essential, if you prefer Acoustic Neil, you still might want to buy this album, but don’t look for Heart of Gold or anything on here.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

neil-young-crazy-horse-live-at-the-fillmore-east-200g-vinyl-lp-122-pFrom pitchfork.com

The term “solo artist” is the most common misnomer in rock history, an insult to the oppressed and silent majority behind each legend’s curtain. I’m talking about the sidemen, the backing bands, the producers, whose names are known only to the most ardent of sleeve-note scholars and biographers, and whose importance is recognized all too rarely. Elvis Presley had Scotty Moore and Sam Phillips, Bob Dylan had Al Kooper and Bob Johnston, David Bowie had Brian Eno and Mick Ronson, all integral parts of the sound that made each one famous, but doomed to never grace the marquee alongside the featured star.

Over the course of his career, Neil Young has run through a whole wardrobe of identities, each with its own critical supporting cast: a handful of country-rock bands with Stephen Stills, his seminal acoustic records with Nashville session supergroup the Stray Gators, tours and records with Booker T. & the MG’s and Pearl Jam. But the group that Young returns to again and again is perhaps the unlikeliest, certainly not the most famous, and definitely not the most technically polished. Since 1969, Crazy Horse have been the three-piece engine that has fueled some of Young’s most iconic work, and he has repaid them with the kind of equal billing that unsung sidemen so infrequently receive.

The proof is pictured on the cover of Live at the Fillmore East, where Young made the venue’s sign-letter putter-upper do the extra work of spelling out his backing band’s name alongside his own. At the time, Young was coming off an insanely successful record and tour with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but he brushed them aside to play shows with the band that had backed him on his breakout solo statement Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere: Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot, and Ralph Molina. Unknown, unpolished, even untalented (according to some), Crazy Horse were the complete antithesis of the polished and fashionable CSN, yet they helped Young achieve his apocalyptic garage-rock visions more vividly than the awkward compromises of the industry-assembled supergroup ever could.

Ironically, given Crazy Horse’s oft-documented lack of technical ability, these 1970 shows took place at the time in rock history when improvisation was prized almost to the point of being a requirement. The Fillmore itself was a venue closely associated with the marathon jam sessions of bands like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, and Miles Davis’ fusion experiments actually shared the bill with Young & Crazy Horse. Young’s contribution to this trend were his fraternal-twin epics “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”, each with grand valleys of open space between brief scripted moments of verse and chorus.

This release is dominated by those two songs, both of which gallivant past the 10-minute mark without ever growing stale, perfect demonstrations of the chemistry between frontman and supporters. The rhythm section of Talbot and Molina is anything but tight or flashy, but their dinosaur lope contains enough unpredictability to give the band a weird sort of swing, the bedrock upon which Danny Whitten and Neil Young stage their guitar conversations. The myth of Whitten has always been cloudy, his heroin habit having extinguished his much-lauded talent and, eventually, his life just as Crazy Horse started to gain a reputation, but it’s on full display here, his ever-evolving rhythm parts combining with guest Jack Nitzsche’s electric-piano to steer the jam sections’ flow, giving Young plenty of room to lay down his alternately sad and angry note-choked leads.

Between these monumental performances, the set’s other songs are almost like smoke breaks, brief bits of the heartfelt, ragged pop Young specialized in circa After the Goldrush. Relative rarity “Winterlong” is the gem of these shorter tracks, one of the sweetest songs in Young’s electric repertoire, with a romantic aura made somehow more genuine by the hilariously broken harmonies. “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown” is the Horse’s spotlight, Whitten showing that he was arguably a better, or at least more traditionally rock’n’roll, singer than his boss– a reminder that he essentially sings the lead part on “Cinnamon Girl”, Young’s biggest electric radio hit.

Yet as the first release of the long-promised purge of Young’s extensive archives, the format of Live at the Fillmore East is condescendingly slight, selecting only highlights from the band’s two-night/four-show run rather than providing complete, unabridged sets. For a band whose genius sprouts from imperfections and serendipitous mistakes, it’s a disservice to deny Young’s rabid fanbase unedited release of tapes that have been so long anticipated; they were recorded at the time for a live album that was later scrapped. But the few scraps they deemed worthy of release are nevertheless enough to justify the legendary status of Crazy Horse’s early days, and explain why it was an easy call for Young to make the rare “solo artist” decision of treating his collaborators as equal partners.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

neil-young-crazy-horse-live-at-the-fillmore-east-200g-vinyl-lp-122-pFrom sfloman.com

Although this album was (finally) released in 2006, I’m putting this review here because chronologically this is where it makes the most sense. For years me and many fans waited for Neil to start releasing archive material, much like Bob Dylan has done with his terrific Bootleg Series of albums, and when this 43 minute album appeared many people were disappointed by how little material Neil saw fit to release.

After all, it was well known that Neil and Crazy Horse (also including Jack Nitzsche on piano as an official member here) had recorded an acoustic set and that “Cinnamon Girl” was part of the electric set, but personally I’m not too bothered by this because I prefer my Crazy Horse fix served raw and electric, plus there are plenty of other live performances available of both acoustic Neil and electrified versions of “Cinnamon Girl.” The bottom line is that what is here is fantastic.

First of all, the sound quality is better than any bootleg of these performances you’ll ever hear. Secondly, what performances! The album kicks off with a predictably great “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” always a personal favorite, and it also includes excellent versions of “Winterlong” and Whitten’s “Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” both of which I’ve also long had an affinity for and these may be the best versions I’ve heard (with apologies to the Pixies who also did a wonderful cover of “Winterlong”).

The other short song is “Wonderin’,” a bit of a rarity in that it wasn’t officially released until Neil’s 1983 rockabilly record Everybody’s Rockin’, but though this easily loping number is also modestly enjoyable let’s face it the reason that this album is so great is because of its two long longs. The 12+ minute “Down By The River” and especially the 16-minute “Cowgirl In The Sand” are astounding, utterly thrilling highlights that also might be the best versions I’ve heard of these songs.

Man, this is rock ‘n’ roll as it’s meant to be played, with real musicians playing real instruments, with finding the groove and locking in being more important than technical perfection. The vocals are a bit raggedy but not in a bad way, and needless to say there are plenty of extended guitar solos along the way; with apologies to Frank Sampedro and Stephen Stills, I don’t think that Neil ever found a guitar foil as sympathetic, who so perfectly fit what he was trying to do, than Danny Whitten, who was a talented singer and songwriter as well (for more information about him on this front read my review of Crazy Horse’s criminally overlooked self-titled album from 1971).

Anyway, again it’s easy to criticize this archive release for its imperfections, which includes shoddy packaging (no liner notes from the guy who self-penned notes about each song on Decade?) but which mainly is simply too short and leaves you wanting more. Then again some of his other live albums are definitely too long, and I’ll always be on the side of too short over too long so long as the overall quality is as high is it is here.

The bottom line is that this is Neil Young & the first version of Crazy Horse at their absolute best, and Neil Young & (either version of) Crazy Horse at their absolute best delivered some of the best guitar-based rock music ever recorded (especially live music). Note: This album is also included as part of his The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972 9-cd box set released in 2009.

February 24, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment

Neil Young: Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

From Uncut magazine

In the continuing absence of Neil Young’s “Archives”, we clutch at any morsels dispensed from the great man’s table. Long a live bootleg classic – as well as being the source of “Tonight’s The Night”’s “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” – Neil’s March 1970 sets at the Fillmore East showcased the rising star of grungy country rock in the company of the band that helped him find his musical feet on 1969’s cracklingly great “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”.

The title track of “Everybody Knows” is the opening one here and immediately sets the tone for “Live at the Fillmore East”: the loosely funky 4/4 groove patented by drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot, the wiry guitar interplay between Young and junkie henchman Danny Whitten, the half-assed barrelhouse piano contributed by the curmudgeonly Jack Nitzsche (introduced by Young as hailing from New Mexico rather than his native Michigan).

“Fillmore East” is most famous for the long jams on two “Everybody Knows” epics. “Down By The River” consists pretty much of two chords in the service of heads-down trance – imagine Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” fused with the horns-locked CSNY intensity of “Long Time Gone”. The difference here is that Whitten simply complements Young’s livid, splayed extemporizations rather than (a la Steve Stills) attempting to upstage and drown them out. “Cowgirl In The Sand” can also be whittled down to two lopingly grungy chords and similarly offers a vehicle for long, needly guitar lines that wind their way round Whitten’s rhythm strumming. If you love Young’s playing, you could listen to his intense sustain and sputtering attack all night.

“Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”, sung by its co-author Whitten with a blue-eyed-soul larynx that could be Stephen Stills fronting Moby Grape, is a smack classic that prefigures the unfortunate demise of the former Rocket. Young and Billy Talbot yelp along in a manner more akin to Flo & Eddie than Danny & the Memories. Young included it on “Tonight’s The Night” as a kind of memorial plaque to the guitarist he’d axed on the eve of the “Time Fades Away” tour.

That leaves “Winterlong”, unreleased in its studio incarnation until 1976’s “Decade”, and “Wonderin’”, introduced by Young as a track from “our new album” but unreleased in studio form until 1983’s “Everybody’s Rockin'”. The former is a cult favourite among Neilheads but to these ears remains melodically banal; the latter has a clipped country feel that did not survive its metamorphosis into a Shocking Pinks track. Nevertheless, live ‘70s rock doesn’t come much better than NY in NYC. An album of rough beauty and electric density, “Fillmore East” captures the formerly frail troubadour at his most fired up.

By Barney Hoskyns

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Neil Young Live At The Fillmore East | | Leave a comment