Live at Massey Hall – Neil Young
Long bootlegged, traded and mythologized, Neil Young’s solo acoustic performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall on January 19th, 1971 has been viewed as an unreleased gem in the artist’s mammoth canon, as Young returned to Canada a conquering hero, following his success in Buffalo Springfield, with Crosby, Stills & Nash and as a solo artist. While the atmosphere is electric, the audience is thankfully polite and respectful in allowing the musician to ply his wares without filling up the lack of volume by shouting requests or words of encouragement. (That’s not so much a wink to the Canadian national personality, but a reminder of what the demands of an artist and a crowd are one performs and one allows the performance to happen for the benefit of all. I angrily recall a Young solo show in Cleveland where some in the crowd didn’t grasp that.)
Here we find a young Young, talkative, revealing and almost sounding painfully shy. His voice is strong on all 17 numbers with his vibrato equally so. It’s the sort of performance that should be pointed at for those who don’t already appreciate him and criticize his singing abilities.
With new tunes pouring out of him, Young allows the listeners a peak into his fertile creative mind (“Bad Fog of Loneliness”) as well as what’s transpired while on the road (“Love in Mind”). That includes several numbers that would make it on what would become his next studio release, Harvest. Here, “Old Man,” “There’s A World” and “Heart of Gold” maintain their hypnotic power despite minimalist arrangements. “Man Needs A Maid,” never a major favorite of mine, receives an injection of vulnerability when it follows the longing ideals stationed within “Love in Mind.” And while the grittiness and fire that arises when he performs with Crazy Horse is obviously missing from “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River,” its solo versions aren’t lacking. In a sticker on the album’s shrink wrap there’s quote from Young admitting that his producer David Briggs was correct in wanting this released prior to Harvest. Of course, he was correct. It represents a young artist at work, a few layers of innocence remaining and prior to running through the hellish gauntlet that followed on album’s such as Tonight’s the Night. When that period of Young’s life encapsulated him, it was too late to go back until now.