Neil Young’s Missing Archives

Neil Young's Missing Archives

The Neil Young Archives series has kept its targets mostly clustered around a thin slice of his long career: 1968-1971, the brief era stretching from Buffalo Springfield’s dissolution to the cusp of Young’s early commercial peak around the time of Harvest. As I mentioned yesterday in my review of the new Live at the Cellar Door release, I’d like to see Young’s “Performance Series” spread out a little more. Between the 1971 Massey Hall shows and the 1984-1985 International Harvesters shows released in 2011 as A Treasure, there’s a gaping hole in the officially released live timeline that covers some of his best years.

Fortunately, Young is among the most bootlegged artists in rock, and the dark bootleg underbelly of YouTube grants listeners easy access to these unofficial archives. So here are five shows that fill that current gap, some of which will hopefully find their way to official releases some time around the Archives Vol. 2 box set is released in approximately 2029. (Many of these bootlegs—or the stories behind them—I learned about from Tyler Wilcox’s excellent Tumblr, Doom & Gloom From The Tomb.)

11/5/73 – Rainbow Theatre, London

“Welcome to Miami Beach, ladies and gentlemen. Everything is cheaper than it looks.”

Though largely recorded in the summer of 1973, the caustic Tonight’s The Night wouldn’t make it into record stores until two years later. That didn’t stop Young and his tequila-soaked Santa Monica Flyers from taking the album on the road, playing the unheard material for befuddled European crowds between long, mumbling monologues about Miami Beach and dead friends. The killer joke of the tour was when Young reassured the crowd, “Here’s one you’ve heard before,” then launching into a second (sometimes third), even longer and more harrowing rendition of the unreleased album’s title track. It’s a sloppy Irish wake gut-punch that makes the studio album sound almost cheery by comparison.

5/16/74 – The Bottom Line, New York City

“Here’s another bummer for you…that’s my trip, man.”

Perhaps the most famous Neil Young bootleg of all, this set was a surprise solo appearance at the dinky Greenwich Village club after a Leon Redbone/Ry Cooder bill. Due to a big CSNY reunion, Young never properly toured his incredible On The Beach, leaving this show as the sole evidence of what the long, post-apocalyptic dirges of “Motion Pictures” and “Ambulance Blues” sounded like fresh from the studio. None of this material would have worked in an arena anyway, of course, but its darkness is still lost on a stoned, starstruck crowd who giggle their way through the newly-written “Long May You Run” and shout for “Southern Man,” prodding Young into a hollow-eyed speech about fame. Then again, Young also shares his recipe for pot-infused “honey slides” at one point, so his perhaps his mental state that night wasn’t all that far off from those of his fans.

The Joel Bernstein Tapes, November 1976

“Every time I tried to record this song, someone stepped in and stopped it.”

The 70s were so prolific for Neil Young that he eventually started to outpace his record company, putting together at least two albums (Homegrown and Chrome Dreams) that were shelved for mysterious reasons at the last minute. Some of the songs from those records surfaced on this 1976 tour, where shows were split into acoustic and electric halves. At some point, Young’s friend, photographer and archivist Joel Bernstein put together this mixtape of soundboard recordings from the solo sets, rescuing some songs from obscurity and providing a comprehensive digest of his most fruitful stretch of songwriting.

The Ducks Compilation, Santa Cruz, 1977 ( Vol. 2)

“Neil Young…one of the Ducks, just one of the Ducks.”

Neil Young’s nearly decade-long bad fog of loneliness finally lifted in Santa Cruz, where he formed a new band called the Ducks with local musicians and spent the summer playing under-the-radar shows at the town’s two clubs. The scraps that have been discovered offer a rare glimpse of Young as hired-gun guitarist playing straightforward bar-band rock’n'roll mostly written by other people, with all four members alternating songs and vocals (in a much more collaborative way than CSNY ever attempted). It turned out to just be a summer fling for Young, but some of the razor-edged sound the Ducks deployed at the Catalyst and The Crossroads Club would resurface with Crazy Horse in the Rust Never Sleeps era.

11/21/86 – Cow Palace, San Francisco  (Part 2)

“We’re going to be practicing for a long time today, Mom!”

It’s often forgotten that in the middle of Neil’s supposedly anti-commercial 80’s, he recorded two albums with his reliable collaborators Crazy Horse. People forget this because those two albums—Landing On Water and the live-recorded Lifesound horrible. But the underlying material, such as “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” or “Prisoners of Rock & Roll,” is actually pretty solid, and some of the weird digital sounds Young was aiming for as far back as Re-ac-tor and Trans are actually pretty interesting when they’re not drowned in 80s cocaine-gloss production. Staged as a faux garage band practice, complete with Mom yelling from upstairs, this 1986 slightly new-wavy edition of the Horse (warning: keytars are involved) can hang with the far more acclaimed earlier and later incarnations, with a boost from a much weirder setlist.

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