Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I've never really been a Neil Young fan. It's not the I disliked his music, it's just that I was never really drawn to it strongly. I guess I had this misperception that he was just an ugly Canadian Dylan, with less cryptic lyrics. But always in the back of my head, I knew I was missing something.

A couple of weeks ago I read some rave reviews about the first official release of Young's legendary 1971 "Live at Massey Hall" show and decided to give the old Crazy Horse another chance. I'm glad I did--this album confirmed that I definitely was "missing something" in my previous experiences with NY's music: the incredible intimacy of his live performances.

This performance is filled with some of Neil's early crowd pleasers, but also includes some early performances of some of his signature songs, such as "Old Man", "Needle and the Damage Done" and my personal favorite, "Helpless". The careful blend of precision, intensity & gentleness with which he delivers these songs is staggering--this is truly of a portrait of an artist who is completely and utterly at one with his art in a certain moment in time. It's rare thing to find in any art form, and particularly beautiful in music.

The songs were great, but what really impressed me was the between song banter. In an era of burgeoning rock egos with performers either not speaking to their audiences, having confrontations with them or even playing with their back turned to the crowd, Young spoke gently and modestly about his travels, his music & his ranch home that inspired many of the "new songs" (now classics) from the performance. Apparently talented, unpretentious rock stars did actually exist in the late 60's/early 70's.

While the CD (remastered in HDCD, which I really appreciated since I own an HDCD player) is incredible, I was a bit less taken with the DVD of the show. The camera work is pretty shoddy, and it seems as if Neil did not realize the show would be filmed. Apparently the film lights were throwing him off, and he asked them to stop filming for a while. As a result, film footage of the full concert does not exist and the directors were forced to cross-cut with b-roll of Neil on his ranch and other footage.

My biggest disappointment from the DVD--when Young is discussing the inspiration for his song "Old Man" prior to performing the song, he says it is about an old ranch hand who lives on his property. Unfortunately, the film crew had shot some footage of the man, and showed him over Neil's monologue. Although it was interesting to put an actual face to the man in the song, it also killed a lot of the mythical power of the tune for me--instead of the "old man" being a metaphor or an everyman, he will always be the ranch hand in my mind now. A filmmaker has a responsibility to consider the power of their images, and in this example, I don't think they did.

Other than this disappointment, I was very much impressed with the album & it has given me a new-found respect for Neil Young, both the man and his music. Highly recommended--on a scale of 1-5, I give it 4.5 teeth!


casey said...

S'good record. I'm a little burned out on Neil Young in general, but I listened to it the other day and it made life feel much more groovy.

Tanner M. said...

I'll take Neil over Dylan anyday - Jay i'm gonna burn you an intro to Neil - if you liked this live album i think you'll enjoy his "ditch period" albums...

jay said...

Thanks Tanner! I'm looking forward to expanding my Neil horizons :)

However, it's going to take nothing short of a miracle to "take Neil over Dylan"--Zimmy's been my hero since I was 15.