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Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall

2007-07-31 08:43
The songs on this collection are some of the best Neil Young ever wrote - before he began releasing patchy albums that blended cheap 80s pop and past-it pretentions. They're from a time when his big fame had just come, and he was writing some of the best music of his career (though is most recent solo studio album is right up there) and the drugs hadn't yet taken the tole on his talent. It's recorded in Canada, before he moved to America, never to return to return home for good.

Young's live performance is a serious one here, and with the DVD you get only the bare bones - one camera, and mainly a long shot. What's amazing is really the sound which is not just astoundingly good for its time but also the sound of an artist finding his voice.

The large but reverent audience would probably sit cross-legged to worship, if they could, to listen. Young's 24-year-old voice is astounding - pure, high, piercing, urgent. Nobody - at the time or now - sings like this. The versions of "On The Way Home", "Helpless" and "The Needle and the Damage Done" easily outshine those on the studio albums.

Many live albums are, because of their timing, just a best of sung to a crowd with new packaging or in a new format. No fear here. The awful "A Man Needs a Maid" gets a classic introduction: "...it would be the showtune of my life" that makes its message meaningful. Young's simple performance is filled with angst and self-mockery - it's nothing like the over the top production that blemished Harvest.

The DVD of the performance is too badly shot for anyone but the dangerously obsessed fan to watch right through - though you do get to see the old man about whom "Old Man" was written. But also inside are scans of Young's working notes and lyrics, and other doo-dads that the dedicated afficionado can spend hours pouring over.

Verdict? In roughtly eleven words: This CD/DVD package is an essential for any classic folk fan. Buy it if you are one, buy it as a gift if you're not. Followers of the anti-folk scene (Bright Eyes etc) might also want to explore one of their heroes' the major inspirations. And besides all that, this record also stands on its own as, simply put, a work of great beauty.

- Jean Barker

Neil Young is old now, but once apon a time he was only 24 years old. A sulky, brooding, rich star who lived on a ranch and shot shaky home videos of his dog and the old man who worked there.

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