Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Live at the Fillmore East (with Crazy Horse)

This live album, released more recently as part of the Archive Series but recorded in 1970, makes as strong of an argument you'll find for Crazy Horse as a live band. They were still young, fresh and polished, and Danny Whitten was still alive, so they sound more like a tight group of pros and less like the luckiest bar band in the world, as they will on later releases. Neil and co. go on some extended jams here, stretching "Down By the River" out to 12 minutes, and "Cowgirl in the Sand" into a whopping 16 minute colossus. But it never feels draggy or aimless, the album never flags in energy and always feels like it's driving forward.

When I was young, I had some sort of inexplicable bias against live albums. My thinking was, I guess, that live albums had neither the energy/electricity of actually watching a live performance, nor the polish and production of a studio album. And maybe that's true for shitty bands; I've certainly heard live albums where the songs sound just like they do on the album, only worse. But I've come to realize that the joy of a Neil Young live album is that his songs aren't dead, they are still breathing. Neil is constantly reworking his songs for a live audience; turning heavy songs acoustic, or turning mellow songs into hard rockers. And barring that, he's still going to explore the songs, no matter how many times he's played them. I'm listening to his solo for "Cowgirl in the Sand" as I write this, and I can hear him finding new ground, new avenues or ideas in the song he maybe hadn't explored before.

In addition to some excellent live versions of songs from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, you get the very good "Winterlong" and "Wonderin'," and best of all is a rousing version of Witten's "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown," an edited version of which Neil will later use on Tonight's the Night.

Rating: B


Shenan said...

I think that's the best description I've heard yet of what a live performance should be, and what a musician should aspire to each time he plays a song for people who haven't heard it a million and one times like that musician has.

Shenan said...

excuse me, each time "he or she" plays a song.