Neil Young Official Bootleg Series: ‘Dorothy Chandler Pavilion 1971;  Royce Hall, 1971; Citizen Kane Jr. Blues ’74’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

It’s no small irony Neil Young has commenced a vault project he calls the ‘Official Bootleg Series.’ After all, this is the man captured on video years ago, confronting a record store owner/operator for selling unauthorized sets of his recordings. But the Canadian rock icon is a man given to contradicting himself with (seemingly) nary a second thought,  dating back to his comings and going to and from the ranks of Buffalo Springfield and, more recently, up to and including the inauguration and continuation of this archive endeavor. 

Young initiated the vault releases with Carnegie Hall 1970, a virtual duplication of the previous standalone title, 2021’s Young Shakespeare. That itself is a virtual mirror image of 2007’s Live at Massey Hall and Neil now has issued two more similar concert pieces, along with another of arguably greater distinction, all on CD & digital with vinyl to follow at a later date.

Royce Hall, 1971 is a solo acoustic gig, recorded in January of that year on the UCLA campus, while Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 1971 is a similarly executed performance, with Young on vocals, guitar, piano and harmonica, on the last US show of his solo tour. While these first two may seem redundant in the wake of the aforementioned prior releases, they are also a testament to the consistently high level of Young’s performances (not to mention a sunny state of mind, then and now, to which he alludes in the abbreviated liner notes to Chandler). 

A readily discernible uniformity prevails in the song selections, standard inclusions of which appear in the form of “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Ohio” and “See the Sky About to Rain.” The running order does change between 1/30/71 and 2/1/71, while on the latter date, “Down by the River” appears in addition to “Cowgirl In the Sand,” another cull from 1969’s initial opus with Crazy Horse. Both those numbers have more often than not functioned as improvisational warhorses in an electric setting, so it’s noteworthy how effectively Young gets them to work by himself in this acoustic context: his deceptively fragile voice lends an ominous air to these particular interpretations.

Paradoxically, those music lovers most loyal to this idiosyncratic artist are the ones most likely to at once desire to keep their collections complete, but also find the ’71 titles an overkill of sorts. There is no question, however, that those same aficionados are also those most likely to be objective and open to the relative virtues of Citizen Kane Jr. Blues 1974. Live at The Bottom Line in New York City is nothing so much as a quick peek above the rim of the fabled ditch to which Young referred to around this time in speaking of Tonight’s The Night and Time Fades Away, plus On The Beach, from whence comes a clutch of tunes within these eleven tracks.

According to Neil’s notes on the back cover, this just shy of fifty-five-minute performance was recorded on a table-top cassette device from the audience. Opening with what may be an ode to his collaboration with those three high-profile friends of his, “Pushed It Over the End” is a somewhat languorous but ominous tune that foreshadows the inclusion of four numbers from the aforementioned (at the time) yet-to-be-released album from later that year (not coincidentally, issued around the time of his stadium tour with CSN). In what is now a readily-recognizable exercise in Young’s customary predilection for confounding expectation(s), that title song, “Ambulance Blues,” Revolution Blues,” and “Motion Pictures” appear interspersed with decidedly more accessible, easygoing material.

Still, “Long May You Run” was also unreleased at the time of this concert, as was “Pardon My Heart,” which would only show up on the next year’s effort with Crazy Horse, Zuma. “Helpless.” is a far more familiar cull, coming from CSNY’s Deja Vu, while “Dance Dance Dance,” included just months before on the eponymous debut album of The Horse, appears as the decidedly upbeat closer; a regular setlist placement of this period, it comes complete with the author’s affable intro and serves as an appropriate coup de grace for this surprise appearance. 

Young makes it sound easy to mix material from various stages of his career, yet in the most practical terms, it’s as courageous as it is ambitious to proffer so many unknown compositions to an unsuspecting audience. That doesn’t, however, deny the fact those in attendance reside in the very demographic to which the Canadian rock icon is no doubt aiming (as is the case, by extension, with ‘Official Bootleg Series’). Those present in the small room do sound graciously forgiving, though, even in hearing a short, angst-ridden rendition of “Greensleeves”

On the back cover of this single compact disc sleeve, Neil also relates he made this impromptu decision to play the late-night set in May of 1974 following a Ry Cooder show he attended. And while the replication of what’s presumably the same graphic design for CD as vinyl LP is an understandable cost-effective decision, that copy is difficult to discern as much for the color scheme as the font size, a flaw that begs the question of why that content wasn’t added to the flip-side of the one-sheet insert inside the sleeve hawking ‘The Neil Young Archives: ‘ is greater print duplication a potentially greater financial liability than the heavily-touted means to insure impeccable sound quality for this release and its two companion pieces?  

Apart from the wayward package design—and, for some listeners, hearing the repartee before  “Roll Another Number (For The Road)” as simultaneously unctuous and condescending– Citizen Kane Jr. Blues is a prime example of the kind of unorthodox creativity that’s made this man such a fascinating and (mostly) revered figure for over fifty years now. Hopefully, it garners a commercial response sufficient to warrant more rather than less unusual such releases and thus render the ‘Official Bootleg Series’ as iconoclastic as Neil Young himself. 

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2 Responses

  1. As a 50+ year music fan of NY I am a little lukewarm with this bootleg series. I was looking forward mostly for the release of Citizen Kane Jr but was disappointed the sound wasn’t much better than my boot from the 70’s. Chandler and Royce are only worth purchasing for the chit chat between songs. Carnegie Hall and Massey are both the Gold Standards for this period of NY’s career. Still I love the effort NY is doing for his fans in releasing these concerts.

  2. Neil will be gone too soon. Everything he has released is a gift to the world and to be celebrated.

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