Wild Mercury Sound

Neil Young At Massey Hall

John Mulvey

I've never really had the patience to collect bootlegs, so I'd never heard Neil Young's "Live At Massey Hall", 1971 until the official version turned up the other day.

The Neil goldrush has really started now, following the "Fillmore East" set that was released at the end of last year. The first "Archives" box - a mere eight CDs - is finally set to appear in September. Allegedly. Until then, we'll make do with this solo acoustic gig.

Which is great, of course. Seventeen tracks punctuated by Young's raddled mumbles. As has become his habit over the years, most of the songs were brand new at the time of the gig in Toronto. There's quite a difference, though, between sitting through a set which would become "Harvest", and enduring "Greendale" in its entirety (though actually I can make a case for that album, if I'm pushed).

The audience here sound awed rather than disgruntled, or perhaps they're as wasted as Neil. Sweetly patriotic, too - when he sings of "a town in North Ontario" in "Helpless", they all clap obediently.

According to the blurb on Neil Young's Myspace site, producer David Briggs wanted to release these live versions at the time, even at the expense of "Harvest". Young, as curmudgeonly as ever, didn't even bother playing the tapes until the late '90s. If "Harvest" sometimes feels a little soft-focus, there's a directness to the "Massey Hall" takes that are especially appealing to those of us who generally prefer electric to acoustic Neil. A medley of "A Man Needs A Maid" and "Heart Of Gold" at the piano, is especially striking, once he's finished his waffling intro.

You can read more about the album in the next issue of Uncut, of course, or at Neil's Myspace. I'm gradually getting to grips with the blogging tools I have here, so I'll try and post links to music and stuff whenever I can.


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