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Published: 2008/12/02
by Brian Robbins

Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968 – Neil Young


“I hope that the waitresses got to you you really blew our minds, because we only really expected uh a lot less people than showed up. And, uh I think you were a lot wiser than we were and I hope you’ll please welcome back Neil Young.”

Wrap your head around this: there was a time when the promoters of a Neil Young solo show in a tiny room (with a listed maximum capacity of 70 people) had their doubts that they'd see that many people. That's right.

Thanks to the release of Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury House 1968, you are there right thereon the nights of November 9th and 10th, 1968. The latest release in the Neil Young archive series documents a “stealth booking” of an almost-23-year-old Young and his guitar at the University of Michigan. The basic question: could a solo Neil pull a crowd and deliver the goods? Sure, we know the answer nowbut, believe it or not, it really was a question on the nights these recordings were made.

The music, of course, is the main reason to own Sugar Mountain, but the raps between songs are neat audio photos of a young Neil alone on stage. After the airy chords of the opener, “On The Way Home,” he makes a confession: “I wish I’d brought a comb tonight. This is the longest my hair has ever been it really is. I’m gonna let it grow and grow and grow and grow.” The child-like tone of that proclamation just nails you heck, you want to hug the kid and take him home for a bowl of hot soup.

Other between-song gems include the process of songwriting (“Things come to you and all you are is a radio station you know what I mean? You send out and it comes to you”), tuning issues, and the fallacy of trying to mix bookstore employment with “diet pills.”

For some, Neil’s tendency to boil down his guitar work to what simply needs to be to tell the story and get the feeling across has been a source of debate over the years. Sugar Mountain is a prime example of what’s right about his style: neither “Mr. Soul” nor “Broken Arrow” suffer for lacking the full Buffalo Springfield arrangement and songs like “The Loner” lose none of their dropped-D tuning crunch in this setting.

Sure, you know what’s going to happen when Neil finally drops that palm tree at the end of “Last Trip To Tulsa.” but like all good story tellers, he has you sitting on the edge of your seat to hear it again just in case. And for those who favor Neil the Grungedaddy, you’ll find roots to enjoy: during a 7 minute-plus “The Old Laughing Lady”, for example, Neil lets it ride and hammers away on some ominous bass string riffs that snarl with the best of Pearl Jam Unplugged.

Why “Sugar Mountain” was chosen for the title track may not seem apparent at first (it’s one of 13 songs on the 23-trackwith raps and all—collection), but when you think about it, it’s the perfect choice: if the combination of sweet innocence and wisdom beyond Neil’s years appealed to you on After The Goldrush, then you should own this album. It’s a disc-full of the very same.

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