The Neil Young Archives Performance Series continues with this release (“Disc 03”), a double album featuring Young’s acoustic performance at Massey Hall in Toronto on January 19, 1971. I reviewed the earlier release, Neil Young and Crazy Horse at the Fillmore 1970, in the August.
This performance could not be more strikingly different from the 1970 recording (of which I was extremely fond). Rather than featuring an electric backup band, this LP showcases Young as a solo performer, accompanying himself on guitar and piano in front of a very appreciative “homeland” audience.
Your enjoyment of this LP may well be determined by your preference for a “naked” performance (of which this is one) or for something with more instrumentation. This is Neil unplugged. Nothing comes between the listener and the voice. Now I would never call Young’s reedy tenor beautiful, but it is certainly distinctive, and it is the centerpoint of this performance. I was struck, in fact, by just how good his voice sounded when he was younger (25 years old here). There have been a few miles put on that voice since then—have a listen to Prairie Wind if you don’t believe me.
The songs on the album are described by Young as mostly “new” songs (all of which have by now naturally passed into the Neil Young canon). It’s great to hear them as if for the first time. There’s a beautiful rendition of Helpless with Young accompanying himself on guitar, as well as other acoustic classics like A Man Needs a Maid, The Needle and the Damage Done and Love in Mind. Perhaps more interesting—or unusual—are his “electric” songs, here performed acoustically: You may never have heard Cowgirl in the Sand, Ohio or Down by the River performed quite like this.
My only beef about the recording is that there’s rather a lot of chatter from Young in between some numbers. I don’t feel that this adds much (yes, we know it was a live performance, and we came to hear Neil sing, not talk). Likewise, we don’t really need to hear two minutes of applause and demands for “more” at the end of Young’s performance (yes, we know it was a great performance). These are, to be sure, minor annoyances.
In fact, regardless of what you hear on this LP, it will sound damned good. Classic has produced an excellent pair of vinyl slabs: Heavy, flat, glossy and quiet. The recording is excellent—and I won’t qualify that by adding “for a live performance”. Mastering is by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. The LP is an A/D-D/A transfer, but happily it lacks any sense of hardness or disconnectedness. There is an intimacy of sound that is very winning.
The album is beautifully packaged in a matte-finish color gatefold with vintage photographs front, back and center. An insert provides very comprehensive information about the recording and production of the album. The innersleeves are “Japanese style” in that they are not square but rounded on one side. They are also made of a very flimsy plastic, and are challenging to replace in the jacket without crinkling them. Given the availability of heavier plastic (or even the more traditional plastic-lined paper innersleeves that Classic used to use), this is a minor miscue.
So in sum, this is an LP well worth adding to the collection, even if Neil Young is not your favorite musician. Not just another high-quality reissue, this is material that is just now seeing the light of day, and I for one am glad that it has.
System Used for Review
- Speakers: Acoustic Research LST
- Turntables: Linn Sondek LP-12 with Ittok LVIII Tonearm, Grado Reference Sonata cartridge, Hercules II Power Supply, Cetech Carbon Fiber Subchassis and Armboard and Herbie’s Way Excellent II Turntable Mat
- Digital Sources: Toshiba SD-3950 DVD player with Vinnie Rossi mods
- Apple iPod Classic, 160 gb Amplification: Yamaha MX-D1 Stereo Power Amplifier Pre-Amplification: McIntosh C712
- Cables: Mapleshade Speaker Wire, Blue Jeans Cable, AudioQuest, ProSolutions and AR interconnects
- LPs reviewed were sealed, and prior to playing were cleaned with LAST Power Cleaner.
from aﬀordableaudio, By Peter D’Amario