Neil Young – Live at the Cellar Door

[rating=8.00]

cellardoorNeil Young’s Live at the Cellar Door follows in the footsteps of previous entries in his archival performance series, bearing marked resemblance to Canterbury House, the Riverboat and Massey Hall. All sterling documents of brilliant solo performances, this one is only slightly less so due to the paucity of spoken interludes that, on its companion pieces, reveals more of the lighthearted side of this deeply introspective artist.

Make no mistake though, the forceful impact of this nearly pure forty-five minutes of music is undeniable (its length, perhaps determined by its release on vinyl, the optimum playing time for two sides of an lp). A composite of performances recorded at a late 1970 run at the Washington DC club, the concept becomes clear via the quick succession of vintage material from a broad span of Young’s career to that point.

Selections from the recently released After the Goldrush, such as “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” and “Birds,” reside next to numbers that would not appear for years, like the plaintive piano version of “See the Sky About to Rain” from1974’s On the Beach. “Bad Fog of Loneliness.” on the other hand, would never see official release until 2007, no doubt because the wordy set of lyrics encumbers its otherwise fully formed graceful melody.

Young is courageous here too in reworking culls from the repertoire of his collaboration with Crazy Horse.  Playing “Cinnamon Girl” on the nine-foot Steinway piano he jokes about about reveals the song’s gorgeous tune more clearly than in an electric rock arrangement, while the ominous air of “Down by the River “ remains even when played solo with rudimentary precision on acoustic guitar.

The rare between-song patter on Live at the Cellar Door is relegated to a humorous semi-stoned rap preceding “Flying on the Ground is Wrong:” this selection from Buffalo Springfield’s eponymous debut album is as revelatory in its own way as “Expecting to Fly” from their second record: even without the lavish studio production, Young offers a remarkably evocative rendition.

As if in the spontaneous progression of a concert, the keen production of Live at the Cellar Door creates more than a little momentum as a short sweet rendition of “I Am A Child” is as sharp and focused as “Old Man” (eventually on Harvest two years later). Thus, the somewhat abrupt sequencing of cuts here becomes little more than a minor blemish on a title that is otherwise a sterling example of how brilliant a performer Neil Young was at this juncture of his career.

 

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