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

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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 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, 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 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.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Charlie

    This latest Archives release is worth having for the piano-only version of “Cinnamon Girl” alone. Was not expecting that. Great stuff!

  • http://www.thrasherswheat.org/wheatfield.html ThrashersWheat

    Glen,

    yes, Neil at a unique crossroads for sure. The intimacy of the
    recording is really nice. And the plucking of the piano strings is
    downright out of this world.

    Maybe redundant for the casual fans for sure. But for the completists? essential.

    Have a great ’14!