There’s something about October, with the cool, crisp air, that always makes me reach for Neil Young. Perhaps it’s my propensity for flannel shirts during the cooler weather.
Or perhaps it’s the warm glow of acoustic guitars mixed and Neil’s yearning vocals. Whatever the reason, you’d be wise to get yourself some Neil Young for the coming cold…
Live Rust, released in 1979, documents songs from Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour in the fall of ’78. Hey, what do you know, fall time! Anyways, the album is split into two distinct parts, acoustic during the first half and raw electric during the second half. Actually, it’s not quite that cut and dry as out of 16 songs, only 6 of them are acoustic. Still, those first five acoustic songs are wonderfully played by just Neil, his guitar and harmonica. He even finds time to play piano during “After the Gold Rush” to emotional effect.
Songs like “Sugar Mountain,” “Comes A Time,” and “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” are all played with such heartfelt emotion they quickly became my favorite versions. There is just something about that sparse guitar mixing with Neil’s trebly, shakey voice that stops time. There is a realness to the material that is quite remarkable and I often find myself staring out the window with a sense of yearning, watching the leaves fall from their trees, Neil softly strumming in the background. It’s real, true, and almost noble music. There are no tricks, no screwing around, just a simple man with a handful of simple songs.
“When You Dance I Can Really Love” kicks off the first of the electric songs with a surge of electricity. Suddenly the amps are turned to 11 and that warm guitar distortion is running rampant. The band, the aptly named Crazy Horse, is playing with a controlled chaos that is almost comforting. The vocal harmonies are all spot on, the bass and drums hold down the groove, and Neil sets off into one of his trademark melodic solos. “The Loner” follows with similar results, Neil singing with a unique rock & roll swagger that is just plain cool.
“The Needle and the Damage Done,” a harrowing song about a fallen friend who succumbed to the dangers of drug use, follows and Neil’s performance is spellbinding. For such a short, simple song the message rings clear with some of Neil’s finest lyrics delivered in excellent voice.
As things move along the album grows darker and heavier, the dense electric guitars threatening everything in their path. “Cortez the Killer” moves with a thick sound and molasses like beat while Neil delivers stunning solos that sound like his guitar is about to explode. One thing that is always unique about Neil’s electric work is that it’s never too loud, never hurting or piercing, and instead goes towards the warmer side of things; whereas other guitarist like to set their guitars to stun, Neil likes to wash over you with thick waves of electricity.
A quickly paced and heavily rocking “Cinnamon Girl,” complete with a stunning electrified coda, sets the stage for the live favorite “Like a Hurricane.” Neil comes in like a storm, almost quiet but with an unnerving sense of foreboding. When the main riffs sets in the band gels with ragged magnificence, setting the groundwork for Neil to come in with his heaviest solo of the night. Amidst his highly melodic solo Neil throws in a ton of heavy effects and at one point hits notes so low they must have rippled the roots of the amber autumn trees.
The night’s heaviness continues with a seriously rocking version of “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” that settles into a deep head shaking groove. Neil’s thin voice sounds almost scary when paired with the heavily distorted riffs that are being thrown around without a care. “Tonight’s the Night,” another song about a fallen friend, rounds out the set with heavy grooves, excellently ragged harmonies, and raging, emotional solos. The band throws down for the final time in a wash of feedback, leaving the heaving crowd to voice their full approval.
Live Rust is one of those albums that every music fan should have. The acoustic numbers are excellent and the electric songs just plain rock. Neil’s penchant for being real is on full display and there is plenty to enjoy throughout the entirety of the album. I can recommend a lot of albums that are fall time essentials and this certainly makes it high into my list. Just awesome.
Around the beginning/end of each of the last four decades, Neil Young has gotten mad and produced a masterpiece or two. Witness: After The Gold Rush (Reprise 1970), Rust Never Sleeps and Live Rust (Reprise 1979), Freedom (Reprise 1989), Ragged Glory (Reprise 1990), Arc-Weld (Reprise 1991), and Road Rock, Volume 1 (Reprise 2000, yet to be hailed a “masterpiece,” but how can one go wrong with any live Neil Young). An added plus is that three and one half of these releases are live albums. The groundbreaking Rust Never Sleeps is the half live offering, containing all previously unreleased music. Side one of the LP is all acoustic music, typically introspective, beginning with a laid back “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and proceeding through the now classic “Thrasher” and “Pocahontas.” Side two’side two is another story altogether. Opening with the remarkable “Powderfinger,” Young establishes his vision of the 1980s, one that is on the bleak side. This release ends with an electric “Hey, Hey, My, My (into the Black)” that pounds English Punk rock into a handful of dust.
…with a big red beacon and a flag and a man on the rail…
Right on the heels of Rust Never Sleeps is Live Rust, an all-live recording containing many of Young’ earlier songs. It is this added completeness and the period of the recording that gives Live Rust the edge over Rust Never Sleeps in this list of the top ten best live rock albums. Live Rust, was originally released as a double-LP live album, on the streets just four months after Rust Never Sleeps. It was the soundtrack to the concert film recounting Young’s Rust Never Sleeps tour and was recorded Oct. 22, 1978, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Live Rust reprises four songs from Rust Never Sleeps in different performances. In spite of this apparent redundancy, Live Rust is an excellent Neil Young live album and retrospective, illuminating Young’s career from the early “Sugar Mountain” and arriving at then-new songs like the scathing “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Sedan Delivery.”
…you better call John, ’cause it don’t look like they’re here to deliver the mail…
The concert documentation begins with an acoustic Neil Young, playing guitar and harmonica. He spins his way through some of his more introspective songs: “Sugar Mountain,” “I Am a Child,” and “Comes a Time.” He then switches to piano to deliver one of his first masterpieces, a nervous “After the Gold Rush.” He then reprises “My, My, Hey, Hey” from Rust Never Sleeps. Then Young turns it up. “When You Dance, I Can Really Love” and “The Loner” are separated from the remaining electricity by a sound clip from Woodstock and a desolate “The Needle and the Damage Done” and an unplugged “Lotta Love.” Finally Young gets serious with a reprised “Sedan Delivery” followed by a sextet of songs that can only be described as corrosive ferocity. “Powderfinger,” Young’s ode to hopelessness very well may be the greatest country song ever written. While quite traditional harmonically, Young makes the genre radioactive musically and lyrically. This song is simply astonishing and its development is equally astonishing as one listens to the three commercially available versions.
…and it’s less than a mile away, I hope they didn’t come to stay…
On Rust Never Sleeps
, we are first introduced to the song and Young sings it with a pensive resignation. The story of a young man faced with overwhelming adversity alone takes the only horrible way out he sees. On Live Rust , Young turns it up a notch and the listener can detect real fear emanate from Young’s anguished story. By the time that ten years elapse between Live Rust and Arc-Weld , Young has honed the song to a crystalline clarity, the fear now palpable as a tumor, the terror as clear as traumatic pain. “Cortez the Killer,” Zuma ‘s molten tour de force , bubbles and flows effortlessly from Young’s black, modified Les Paul, hailing the great and ruthless explorer. The early “Cinnamon Girl” is loud and proud, updated since its infancy. Young’s guitar centerpiece, “Like a Hurricane” is next, a Dorian elegey to love, delivered in Young’s apocalyptically devastating way. “Hurricane” is an anticlimax that plateau’s with the electric hammer of “Hey, Hey, My, My” closing the coffin lid on the Punk era. The show closes the “The Needle”‘s other bookend, “Tonight’s the Night,” a song transmogrified every time young has played it.
…its got numbers on the side and a gun that’s making me quake.
A singular talent, Neil Young has out lived and out produced the majority of his contemporaries without losing a bit of his grit and drive. Lyrically, Young is second only to Dylan in theme and design. His acoustic personality has the perfect temperament for internal detection and exposition while his electric music is the best vehicle for his rage and frustration. Young has been widely recorded live, both commercially and by bootleg. The Road Rock series is not old enough to hail a masterpiece yet nor has it yielded a new performance of “Powderfinger” or “Hurricane.” Let’s hope the series does yield these. But for the time being, Live Rust rules.
If I read it one more time I’m going to hurl. Now what would that be? Well that would be that Live Rust was recorded on Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s tour supporting Rust Never Sleeps. No, No a million times no! Most of Live Rust was recorded at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on October 22, 1978. Rust Never Sleeps was released, June, July 1979. Live Rust was released on Nov., 1979. How wrong is the statement that Live Rust was recorded to support Rust Never Sleeps? Well, some of Rust Never Sleeps was recorded during the Live Rust tour.
Live Rust was actually recorded during the Comes a Time tour. That and I guess you could also say that Neil was also promoting his triple greatest hits album, Decade, which also was still somewhat current.
I was lucky enough to see this show live at the Chicago Stadium. I remember so much of it, as if it were yesterday. There are a few visuals that stand out, the first being the very beginning of the concert. All the amplifiers and stage equipment were covered by huge wooden-looking crates. Beneath the ‘crates’ were over sized amps. One ‘crate’ started to ascend and there was Neil, sitting beneath it playing his acoustic to “Sugar Mountain.” Yup, just like it was yesterday.
Earlier I mentioned how this was not tour to support Rust Never Sleeps. I gave you the timeline to support my argument, but there was one simple was that I remember. That was, it was the first time that I ever heard the acoustic “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” or its electric counterpart “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
The acoustic was played first, as the song continued, you became very familiar with the lead riff. “Ok, cool song” you thought.
About an hour and a half passes, now Neil along with Crazy Horse are all plugged in. They kick into the electric version, remember, neither of these songs had been released yet, and you start hearing that familiar riff only louder. You say to yourself, Oh, I like this song, but I can’t place it, were have I heard it before? Well, duh, quit thinking back thru the Neil catalog, you just heard it for the first time earlier in the evening! Ah, that’s it! What a great way to introduce a couple songs. Remember that the next time a band you are checking out and the front man says, “this is a new song” and you think it’s time to hit the can. You just might be missing something historic. I have an old Led Zeppelin video. In it, they say here’s a new song and start playing “Stairway to Heaven.” People think it’s some ballad and you can see them hitting the aisles. Do you think they wish they’d stayed in their seats? Oops. Closer to home, give a listen to “Old Man” on Neil’s Live From Massey Hall album. It’s was a new song for those people. It get zero reaction at the beginning. Yeah, that would have been fun to hear even if you didn’t know the track.
Live Rust is a great way to hear a nice retrospective of the early to middle sections of Neil’s career. You get some Buffalo Springfield, (“I Am a Child”,” Mr. Soul”) and then the full gamut of solo goodies. You do not however, get any Crosby, Stills Nash and Young.
This was originally a double album. The first or the four sides was the acoustic songs, “Sugar Mountain”,” I Am a Child”,” Comes a Time”,” After the Goldrush” and the previously mentioned “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue).”
Crazy Horse joined Neil for the rest of the album. You’ll have to look long and hard to find a better backing band. They laid down such a perfect groove. Side Three with “Powderfinger”, “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl” is the perfect example of this.