There’s a palpable sense of history unfolding on the just-released “Live at Massey Hall,” the second installment in Neil Young’s “Archives” series. By the time of this Toronto show, the singer had already made his mark with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, along with three solo records.
“I’m going sing mostly new songs tonight,” Young tells the hometown crowd; some tunes were barely a few days old. “I’ve written so many that I can’t think of anything else to do but sing them.” With this humble introduction, he eased into rough drafts of songs that would ultimately form the bulk of “Harvest,” a record that almost single-handedly built a bridge between rock and country music.
Introducing a pristine version of “Old Man,” Young seems to rue his budding success. “I live on a ranch now – lucky me,” he chuckles, while explaining the song’s subject, a 70-something foreman “who came with the place … he stays with the cows no matter who owns it.”
The sudden stature “Harvest” gave to Young effectively limited his chances at playing intimate shows like this one, which is what makes the release of “Live at Massey Hall 1971” so special. It’s a must have disc for any Neil Young fan, because it provides a chance to see some of his best songs at the moment of creation, along with stripped-down, unaffected versions of favorites like “Down by the River” and an eerie, gripping “Ohio.”
“Live at Massey Hall” has many fan-pleasing rarities, including a strikingly different version of “A Man Needs a Maid” (“a man feels afraid,” sings Young on the chorus), which segues into an abbreviated “Heart of Gold” and back again. The never-released Dance, Dance, Dance” is an obvious blueprint for “Love Is A Rose.”
“Bad Fog Of Loneliness” is also here for the first time. Young had originally intended to perform the song on Johnny Cash’s television show, with Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three. He ultimately played the Cash show with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt; their close proximity led to the Nashville “Harvest” sessions, which produced the studio versions of “Old Man” and “Heart of Gold.” A deluxe set bonus DVD includes a clip from the show, along with a black and white film of the Massey Hall concert and a few other rarities.
“Live at Massey Hall” comes in both a CD-only version and a more expensive CD/DVD deluxe set.