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Live at the Fillmore East: March 6 & 7, 1970 – Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Reprise Records 44429-2

Listening to Neil Young perform with Crazy Horse is a visceral experience, rapturous macho thunder that chugs along like a steam locomotive winding its way through the countryside. There’s the sensation of cathartic violence within fiery blaze of musical interplay yet, with the skill of a sculptor chiseling form out of granite, a certain beauty rises from its ruggedness.

With the power of four musicians united as one thrusting object, Crazy Horse has become an arena-sized monster. On Live at the Fillmore East, a compilation from the original incarnation’s March 6 and 7, 1970 shows at the legendary venue, the approach can seem innocent and delicate. The fury that would infiltrate later concerts, possibly due to playing large venues, isn’t heard on this album. Still, even a casual Young fan should make this a necessary addition to their collection.

The line up includes Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums (who’ve remained with Crazy Horse to this day), Jack Nitzsche on electric piano (who went on to greater fame as a record producer), and guitarist Danny Whitten (whose heroin overdose death would influence Young's work).

Rather than the numerous bootlegs, this crystal clear document gives an indication of the live presence and worth of Whitten, as a musical foil to Young’s occasionally volatile playing. The harmonies display a lush quality rather than breaking out like an urgent wail, and the guitar work between Young and Whitten on the lengthy “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” sizzles. Whitten even receives a turn at the microphone to preview “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a track on what would be featured on (allegedly) forthcoming Crazy Horse album.

It’s an amazing time that’s cut short — in the long run by Whitten’s demise, and immediately by the album’s length (six tracks in 43 minutes). I can’t help but wish for the full performance (including Young’s acoustic set).

Live at the Fillmore East is billed as the first in Young’s long-awaited archival releases. The actual billing for this is Neil Young Archives Performance Series, but in the typically mysterious and quizzical nature that has run throughout Young’s career and career choices, it’s listed as “Disc 02.” Did he change his mind at the last minute of what to put out or…? Such conjecture is good for internet discussion boards. What matters is that the Vault is finally open and we could give thanks that this finally arrived.

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