Sunday, January 21, 2007

Journey Through The Past

Of the many hundreds of bootleg recordings that I've amassed over the years, Neil Young's solo acoustic shows from 1971 are up there with my very favorites. Neil was at the absolute peak of his powers in this period, 24 years old, fresh off the release of After The Gold Rush and, from the sound of things, well into one of the most prolific bursts of songwriting brilliance that any artist has ever enjoyed. You can't help but shake your head in amazement as Neil apologetically introduces one "new" song after another to his unfamiliar audiences, many of them -- "Old Man," "The Needle And The Damage Done," "Out On The Weekend," "Journey Through The Past" and "Heart of Gold" among them -- destined for classic status. The genius of Harvest, which set the bar for every singer-songwriter to follow, was at hand.

So I was thrilled to see the news this week that perhaps the most legendary of these shows -- two sold-out sets that Neil played at Massey Hall in Toronto on January 19, 1971 -- will be officially released by Reprise on March 13, the second release in the Archives Performance Series that kicked off with last year's Neil Young & Crazy Horse Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970.

The extraordinary Massey Hall performance has circulated in the bootleg community for 36 years, most frequently as Going Back To Canada, in excellent (if a bit hissy) sound, but the thought of hearing an official release, sourced from the master tapes and no doubt gorgeously remastered under Neil's supervision (because that's the only way he rolls), is enough to set my heart aflutter. Listen to "Old Man" from the bootleg and see for yourself -- to all but a relatively few collectors, this is long-lost treasure. Look for it, as simply Neil Young Live at Massey Hall, in March.

The other gem of the '71 Neil Young solo recordings is his set at the BBC Television studios in London on February 23, which was recently rebroadcast in the UK in full digital quality, to the delight of bootleg traders everywhere. Here's a clip of "Don't Let It Bring You Down" from that performance: