Album: NEIL YOUNG – Live At Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise 43328 2007)

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It was typical of the man’s contrariness that the Performance Series of archive live Neil Young recordings should start with volume 2 – last November’s 1970 Fillmore East electric set recorded with Crazy Horse (Reprise 44429). Young obsessives grumbled that the acoustic set from the same night should have been included, but perhaps the reason it wasn’t is that just four months down the line a solo show recorded at Toronto’s Massey Hall on January 19th 1971 is the second release in the series (volume 3).

Young observes on the accompanying blurb that his producer David Briggs was keen that this set should be issued as the follow up to After The Goldrush, but was vetoed by the singer. He admits that, in retrospect, Briggs may have had a point. He may indeed because this set is very impressive from both a sound and performance perspective.

There are seventeen songs in all, around half of which were as yet unrecorded at the time of the concert. Young plays acoustic guitar or piano on the tracks, but the sound is remarkably full for such a spare set up. And the performance is faultless, with hardly a fluffed note throughout the hour or so playing time. It’s a well-paced set, too, with new material and old favourites mixed in well. It’s worth noting that songs like “Ohio” and “Helpless”, which are cheered to the rafters, had only been out for around six months or so. Even the songs from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere were not much more than a year old, and yet they are greeted like the classics that they’ve since become. Things moved a lot quicker in those days.

Young proves a fairly amusing raconteur with his between song banter without threatening to develop into a stand-up act. The audience have that peculiar (and irritating) North American habit of cheering halfway through a songwhen it dawns on them that it’s one they know, and any lyrical mention of anything remotely Canadian seems to trigger a Pavlovian response from them. The fact that half of the material would have been new to them is a blessing, because they tend to shut up and listen then!

It seems that Neil Young has been talking about opening up his huge archive of unreleased material for around a quarter of a century now. The Performance Series is the start of this, but what will really get the hardcore salivating is the little slip of paper included with this CD that announces: “Coming in 2007. Neil Young – The Archives Volume 1, 1963-72.” An 8 CD and 2 DVD collection of unreleased archive material that includes a 150 page book. A trailer appears at www.repriserecords.com/neilarchives

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