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Live At Massey Hall 1971
CD + DVD
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From the Neil Young performance series archives Available for the first time The acclaimed 1971 solo acoustic Massey Hall performance Featuring 17 tracks-over one hour of music
Special edition CD + DVD combo-pak DVD includes 17 live songs from the Massey Hall concert; hi-res stereo audio BECAUSE SOUND MATTERS
"This is the album that should have come out between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. David Briggs, my producer, was adamant that this should be the record, but I was very excited about the takes we got on Harvest and wanted Harvest out. David disagreed. As I listen to this today, I can see why. Love you, David."-NY
"I'm gonna sing mostly new songs tonight," Neil Young tells the rapt Massey Hall audience, "...I've written so many new ones that I can't think of anything else to do with them other than sing 'em." He steps to the mic unadorned, distant from CSNY's rippled harmonies or Crazy Horse's yowl, hypnotically nailing 17 tracks on this unreleased 1971 solo set. You hear him tower at vocal heights on the chorus for "Old Man" (then a debuted, brand-new song) and name-check Canada on "Journey to the Past" and North Ontario on "Helpless," much to the Toronto crowd's delight. The sound is impeccable, and the closeness to Young in this spare setting exhilarates--especially his vocal quavering in the high registers, his intricate guitar work, and an overall vibe that exceeds description. And the DVD: Here you catch Young in tightly framed, starkly-lit shots, flourishing in the early years of an unparalleled rock career. Not only that, you get commentary from 1997, a rare window on how Young thinks, how he speaks, his humor. --Andrew Bartlett
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Massey Hall is the second release in the Performance Series (despite its cryptic label of Disc 03). Neil reduces things to their absolute minimum at this gig. Neil's voice, his guitar, and his piano are the sole instruments for the seventeen tracks - his harmonica is nowhere to be found. There are no real guitar solos or significant instrumental breaks.
The effect this has is to bring to the forefront Neil's uniquely powerful voice and his emotion-laden lyrics. He sounds wonderful on this release, and the stripped-down presentation truly makes his songs shine. Like the CSNY live album "4-Way Street," we start off with a lilting version of the Buffalo Springfield song "On the Way Home." Neil intersperses a few other classics in the setlist, such as "Down by the River," "Don't Let It Bring You Down," and a powerfully emotional "Cowgirl in the Sand."
However, this was not a nostalgia show. Ten of the songs were brand-new at the time and had not yet been recorded. To their credit, Neil's audience rolls right along with the unfamiliar new material, granting it a respectful silence and enthusiastic applause at the end of each new number (with the exception of the Canada name-check in "Journey through the Past," which of course gets a response, seeing as how Massey Hall is a Canadian venue). At this point, the famed "Heart of Gold" was almost a throwaway middle section in "A Man Needs A Maid." It's cool to hear Neil start his most famous/notorious song so casually, and the absolute lack of audience response is fun.
The DVD that comes with this version of Massey Hall is terrific. The video footage is dated, but it is undeniably powerful seeing the youthful Neil overcoming the back brace he was forced to wear on this tour and delivering such an incredible set. The disc also contains a wealth of historical information and supplemental video content.
I am thrilled to see Neil's Archives finally unfolding and believe this disc is a sure-fire hit for his current fans as well as being a great blind buy if you're new to Neil and want to give his music a shot.
The DVD serves up the entire Massey Hall audio performance with video footage for almost all the songs, but there are some problems. First, the audio often isn't precisely synced and is just a split-second off from matching the video image; watch Neil's lips or guitarwork, and it is just-not-quite-on-the-spot with the audio.
Second, the negative image is backwards on one segment as Neil plays piano. Anyone who plays piano knows that the bass notes are played with the left hand and the treble notes with the right hand. At the end of the piano spot, he also goes to pick up and play his guitar with the neck and frets of the guitar in his right hand. I'm glad to have what we do with this performance footage, but this was an unfortunate mistake, and hopefully will be corrected if this DVD is reissued. Surprised this slipped by the production company, unless Neil intentionally put this in to see if fans caught it. I doubt it, as he's a perfectionist.
Very happy to have this excellent peformance in top-quality sound on CD! All fans of "After the Gold Rush'' and "Harvest" need to buy this.
UPDATE November 2015: Even though this CD is great sound quality, I now realize I haven't listened to it, at all, since the year it was issued. Instead, I went back to hear "Young Man's Fancy" periodically. I guess when something is so firmly imprinted in musical memory, it's a difficult habit to break.