From 'Archives': a spellbinding 1971 solo homecoming show

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Neil Young – Live At Massey Hall
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The Neil Young goldrush started late last year with a 1970 set from the Fillmore East, and will climax in the autumn with Archives Part One, an 8CD box. For now, though, there’s this solo show, recorded in Toronto on the Journey Thru The Past tour (and set to be included in the Archives box), a long-time staple of Young’s bootleg catalogue.
In many ways, it’s the mirror image of the Crazy Horse-accompanied 1970 Fillmore electric rampage. After six years of hard work in America, Young was on the brink of superstardom thanks to his recent link-up with Crosby, Stills & Nash. The previous year’s release of CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Young’s own After The Goldrush had heightened the sense of expectation. Despite often wayward ill health, it was his season of intense creativity. Reminiscent of Dylan in his mid-‘60s heat, Young was practically pissing genius.

Consequently, a hail-the-conquering-hero atmosphere was evident in Toronto: the crowd break into applause when he gets to the “I’m going back to Canada” line in the middle of “Journey Through The Past”. Unknown to them, Young was in a back brace after a sustaining an injury moving timber at his ranch on a Christmas break. Certainly, no signs of any distress are evident in his superlative acoustic guitar and ol’ Mission Hall piano accompaniment. The relaxed, rambling intros suggest that herbal self-medication was on the agenda. And if so, it only seems to have helped him to focus on the music; once into a song, the hangdog hippy is banished and magic takes
hold, with Young attaining cinematic scope from minimal instrumental accompaniment.

His high-flown vocal navigates the upper register with an ease and daring which has, naturally, diminished over the years. Young’s late father, sports writer Scott, whose passing provided the inspiration for many songs on 2005’s Prairie Wind, attended the Concert, giving “Old Man” added poignancy – a great (surely Springsteen-inspiring) song about the father/son generation gap. “See The Sky About To Rain”, not released until 1975, is a special treat from the future, while “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” is beautifully blitzed out. The segue from “A Man Needs A Maid” into “Heart Of Gold” is a perfectly plangent pop moment, “Ohio” is haunted and vexed, and “The Needle And The Damage Done’” comes dedicated to Danny Whitten.

But, really, the whole thing is faultless. With several songs in the set that were unreleased at the time, Young unsurprisingly demurred at producer David Briggs’ suggestion the show be issued before Harvest. No matter – 36 years on, it’s a still riveting performance.

GAVIN MARTIN