Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young The Complex Sessions VHS (1995)

complexFrom amazon.com

‘The Complex Sessions’ is a VHS-EP featuring four songs drawn from Neil Young’s 1994 ‘Sleeps With Angels’ CD release together with Crazy Horse. Those four songs are arguably the choice moments from the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album. The recordings are made in my favorite format: nothing but the band, a recording studio (in this case the Complex Studios in Los Angeles), and several camera’s as the only audience.

The album ‘Sleeps With Angels’ was critically acclaimed and garnered sentimental accoutrements due to the connection between Young and the recently departed Kurt Cobain. That connection may be popularly overstated as Young and Cobain never actually met, but Cobain did reference Young’s lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” in his suicide note, and interestingly Young was trying to contact Cobain out of concern for his well-being the very week that Cobain took his own life.

Young has added to the intrigue by being especially tight-lipped regarding their ethereal connection, but in a 2002 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald he stated, “I like to think that I possibly could have done something… It’s just too bad I didn’t get a shot”. While the title track from the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album is often attributed to memorializing Cobain’s death, it’s tempting to view many other tracks from the disc as having a connection as well. The first three songs from this VHS-EP are prime candidates.

Neil opens with the acoustic ‘My Heart’. The filming is limited to a close-up of Neil delivering the vocals and playing tack piano, while Crazy Horse can be heard backing up with bass marimba, vibes, and drums. The whole song alludes easily to the Cobain tragedy with lyrics such as “…in the night sky a star is falling down…”, and “…when life is hanging in the breeze, I don’t know what love can do”. It’s a soft, gentle, beautiful number, and a faithful rendition.

‘Prime of Life’ follows, picking up the rock theme which anchors the remaining tracks. The chorus, “Are you feeling alright, not feeling too bad myself, are you feeling alright my friend?”, again seem to allude to Young’s attempt to reach out as mentor, muse, and friend to Cobain. The coup de gras, ‘Change Your Mind’ follows, offering “the magic touch”, “supporting you”, “protecting you”, “soothing you” and “embracing you”… perhaps everything Cobain needed, and perhaps what Young might have enabled him to find. Even the concept of “change you mind” seems so fundamental as the answer Cobain needed. The song itself offers extended instrumental passages that seem to descend into non-existence (at one point rhythm guitarist Frank Sampedro reduces his “strumming” to a massage of the six metal strings with his palm), only to come back to life again and again, and awakening to the hopeful chorus. There seems to be a message there… but as with many Young songs, you just never know.

The final track, what Neil might call “some more trash for ya” (as he referred to the encore ‘Roll Another Number’ on the Weld video), the rambunctious indictment of consumerism, ‘Piece Of Crap’. It’s an odd, but fun way to top off this short series of performances, seemingly out-of-place with the exception of extending the evolving intensity of both sound and tempo over the four tracks to its ultimate heights.

Young first began performing ‘Change Your Mind’ while on tour with Booker T. & the MG’s in late 1993, but only three public performances of all four tracks with Crazy Horse (at Farm Aid and the two Bridge School Benefit Concerts) preceded these recordings. That’s probably just enough “rehearsing” to get everything tight without losing the edge that only fresh can deliver. Jonathan Demme receives many kudo’s for the filming and production, but I find the relative absence of close-ups of Ralph Molina (drums), Sampedro, and bassist Billy Talbot a bit disconcerting. All in all, a four star effort, essential for true Young fans, and a great one-time viewing for everyone else. Available only on VHS at the time of this writing.

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young The Complex Sessions VHS | , | Leave a comment