Neil Young is really cleaning out his closet of late – another big box-set from his archives (Vol. II) finally arrived after many years of chat. And Way Down In The Rust Bucket was very recently released too. That’s a Crazy Horse gig from 1990.
This one is a standalone gig. Solo. 1971. It’s been in the can for 50 years. It’s not the only one of its type – in fact this show took place (The Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut, January ’71) just three days after the Live At Massey Hall gig, which after many years of being a bootlegged fan-favourite was given the deluxe CD/DVD treatment.
Now it’s the turn of Young Shakespeare.
It arrives with Young himself telling us it’s better – that’s tantalising enough. It also features unreleased songs so we listen to it (as was the case with Massey Hall and with some of Young’s other archival releases) with the knowledge that the audience hearing it in the recording is being treated to first public outings of what will go on to become monumental songs. Here for instance Young bumbles about being new to the piano and worrying that he’ll make mistakes – he then medleys A Man Needs A Maid and Heart of Gold – both of which aren’t even available in their studio versions. He also plays Old Man with a generous introductory story about the song’s influence.
The banter might be reason enough for a Young fan to buy into this steady, er, stream of archival releases – but also hearing Down By The River and Cowgirl In The Sand stripped of their electric noise and reduced down to solo acoustic versions, to just the song settings of guitar, occasional harmonica and a wee tinkle at the piano is a treat. It’s intriguing. Particularly because Young has continued, in the 50 years since this set, to forever keep the audience guessing. Is it going to be a brand new set of unreleased tunes? Or classic hits all the way? Will their be electric guitar or will most of it arrive via a pipe organ? Only Young knows. And he serves it up in a way that suggests he found out only moments before the audience did.
The treat here is hearing the spectacular sound restoration job – and there’s video too if you want to stretch for that. And given this has been hidden from public consumption it’s impressive how good the digital touch-up is. And then of course those songs. The Needle And The Damage Done – here with a harrowing unpicking of the trauma that induced it. Tell Me Why in stark fragility. Helpless all mourning and sorrowful. Don’t Let It Bring You Down, designed to do exactly that. I could listen to such castles burning forever. And in so many versions.
Young Shakespeare is glorious. And I’m taking old Neil at his word. This is sublime. I loved the Massey Hall show. And because Neil says this is even better that’s what I’m prepared to hear.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron