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Archive for December, 2013

Music Review: Neil Young – ‘Live At The Cellar Door’

Ever since Neil Young’s now ongoing Archives Performance Series finally made its debut a few years back, the results have yielded a steady and mostly satisfying trickle of rare and vintage concert recordings – the exact stuff that hardcore fans had, up until now, long salivated for.

neilcellardoorThat string continues with Live At The Cellar Door.

This is a collection which condenses the best of a six-night, 1970 solo acoustic stand at the tiny Washington D.C. club (200 seat capacity), just before Neil Young broke through to full-on superstardom as a solo artist with the classic After The Gold Rush album.

What makes this release unique, is that it captures Neil Young in a raw, intimate setting at a pivotal point in his career.

At the time these concerts took place, Neil Young was far from the instantly recognizable name he is now. Rather, he was most often referred to as the “Y” in Crosby Stills Nash & Young – the American supergroup, who had actually quietly broken up not long before these shows took place.

Many of the songs included on this recording come from Young’s at-the-time still unreleased third solo album – the aforementioned After The Gold Rush – including a particularly haunting version of the title track, which sounds positively gorgeous here.

However, for those who have been playing catchup with this series, there is more than a little repetition in the track lists that bookend Cellar Door, with the previously released Archives acoustic sets from 1968 (Canterbury House) and 1971 (Massey Hall).

Each of these offer something special, and provide good reason for any self-respecting Neil Young completist to want all three. With Canterbury House, it’s the stripped-down versions of early Young classics “Broken Arrow” and “I’ve Been Waiting For You.” On Massey Hall, it’s the once-played “A Man Needs A Maid/Heart Of Gold” suite.

On Live At The Cellar Door, Neil’s first ever solo acoustic performance of “Cinnamon Girl” at the piano (which he acknowledges at the end), and the equally rare “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” certainly qualify as must-own moments for those fans who already have it all, yet somehow missed this. On the latter, Young’s comments about the Steinway piano he plays as an admitted amateur at the time – he seems particularly struck by the sound made when he strokes the raw wires – are both amusing and endearing.

Ironically, with Live At The Cellar Door, you could make a pretty good case for these three acoustic performances completing yet another trilogy of recordings, coming from an artist who is already quite well known for recording some of his most importantly recognized albums in a series of threes.

But beyond that – and particularly for more casual fans who may happen across this release while shopping for that picky Rustie on their Christmas list – there is considerable overlap in the track list here and the other solo acoustic concerts, already available from this series.

Each of these represent unique stages in Neil Young’s career. The reluctant performer heard on the 1968 Canterbury House recording was reportedly so nervous he nearly didn’t go on; the more confident one heard on 1971’s Massey Hall was about to release the biggest record of his artistic life, and so on.

Live At The Cellar Door is an equally pivotal chapter in that story, capturing Neil Young at a unique crossroads between these two extremes – an artist right on the verge of making the jump from small halls like the Cellar Door to the big arenas.

Still, and for all of its historical significance, there is just no getting around the fact that Live At The Cellar Door comes off sounding somewhat redundant, in light of the previously released acoustic concerts from this series. You can’t fault what’s actually here, other than for the simple reason that we’ve already heard most of it.

Hopefully, this completes Neil Young’s latest trilogy, so we can get on to all the rest of those legendary performances we’ve been hearing about for years, like Crazy Horse at the Catalyst; The Trans Tour; those pre-Freedom shows with The Restless, and…

Well, you get it.

Happy Holidays everyone, and until next year, keep on rockin’ in the free world.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine.

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We know this sometimes tends to sound somewhat redundant, but thanks for sticking with us despite the recent lack of updates.

Between this busy holiday season, and the fact that things have been somewhat quiet in the Neil Young camp lately, there just hasn’t been that much to report.

Fortunately, all of that changed this past week, meaning that it’s time for a long overdue update to the blog.

The biggest news is of course, the long-awaited release of Live At The Cellar Door 1970.

We’d be lying if we said we haven’t heard some of the complaints that this archival live acoustic recording mines the same familiar territory as previous Archives Performance Series volumes like the Massey Hall and Canterbury House sets.

But it also represents a unique snapshot of one of the more pivotal stages in Neil Young’s career. CSNY had just quietly split up, and Neil Young himself was about to break wide open as a solo artist with the classic After The Gold Rush album.

Drawing from 6 shows recorded at the tiny Cellar Door (capacity 200) in Washington, D.C. on November 30th, and Dec. 1, 2 1970, this set captures Neil at a unique juncture – connecting with his audience in an intimate setting, and in ways that served him quite well before making the move to bigger theaters, and eventually to arenas as a solo artist.

Yes, we’d still like to see an official release for legendary Crazy Horse shows like the Catalyst, and the Freedom era shows with the Restless. But this is still essential stuff for any Neil Young fan, and the acoustic versions of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down By The River” are not to be missed.

Neil Young has also announced something of a 2014 mini-tour to take place early next year.

The shows are expected to be in a solo acoustic format, but with Neil Young one can never really tell.

They begin with an already announced four-night run at Carnegie Hall on January 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th. These will be followed by a short series of benefit Canadian shows announced this past week, that Neil is calling “Honor The Treaties.”

Per the official press release from Warner Brothers:

Neil Young has announced that he will perform four benefit shows in his native Canada to raise money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Legal Defense Fund. The “Honor The Treaties” concert dates are listed below. A very special guest, Diana Krall, will also perform on each of the dates. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday December 13th (today).

The ACFN refer to themselves as K’ai Taile Dene, meaning “people of the land of the willow.” A Legal Defense fund was set up to support the ACFN’s legal challenges against oil companies and government that are obstructing their traditional lands and rights.

“Honor The Treaties” Canadian Tour Dates:

Sun Jan 12 Toronto Massey Hall
Thur Jan 16 Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall
Fri Jan 17 Regina Conexus Arts Centre
Sun Jan 19 Calgary Jack Singer Concert Hall

According to a Rolling Stone article, Neil Young & Crazy Horse have also scheduled a short run of European “makeup” dates, following the hand injury of Frank “Poncho” Sampedro that cut short last year’s Alchemy tour.

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According to the same report, so far these include London’s Hyde Park on July 12th and Ulm, Germany, on July 20th. There have been no reports of further shows either in Europe or America.

Yet.

If all of this is true, this would obviously seem to put the heavily rumored 2014 CSNY tour on hold, at least for now. However, the release of the 1974 Doom Tour boxed set is still a go, at least as far as we know.

But speaking of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, we’d like to extend our congratulations for their Grammy nomination for Psychedelic Pill in the Best Rock Album category. Now, there’s a potential win that is long overdue.

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Happy holidays everyone.

And don’t forget that Neil Young FAQ makes an excellent gift for that ever-so-picky Rustie on your list.

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