Neil Young Live at Massey Hall
ack in the early 1970s when the performance on Live at Massey Hall was laid to tape, the music industry was profoundly different from what it is today. New releases were deliberately created affairs, with most new music crafted in the recording studio. Live recordings often fell short of their seemingly simple goal -- to capture the spontaneity and energy of the concert-going experience -- because their careful creation scrubbed the uniqueness of the performance from the finished product.
This is the music industry and world at large into which Live at Massey Hall came, explaining why this 1971 concert, long a coveted bootleg, was never formally released in its day. It's now the second release in Neil Young's burgeoning Archives series, following Live at Fillmore East, which is also a Classic Records double-LP set. In contrast to that earlier date, this one is distinctly stripped down, just Young and his guitar or piano. This arrangement imparts the purity of Young's songwriting gifts, traveling the arc from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young material to Young's own newly released After the Gold Rush and soon-to-be-released Harvest. The intimacy is especially strong with classics like "Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Ohio," but the feeling of time melting away brings vibrancy to all of this music.
Considering the age of this concert and its informal, not-for-release vibe, the lifelike sound is all the more miraculous. Young's playing is vividly portrayed, with overtones wafting around the venue, and his voice sounds big and nearby. "In-the-room presence" describes it, but not fully. "Astonishingly real" is more accurate. This is as high-rez as recorded music gets. The 200-gram pressing is flat, and the quiet vinyl enhances the experience of listening to this music.
Of all the Archives bootlegs released and yet to come, this is the one I'll cherish most. It captures one of rock'n'roll's most mercurial performers at a significant point in his creative development, and it showcases his many musical gifts. This music was lost in the shuffle when it was recorded, but you'll remember it distinctly after you've listened to it, and you'll immediately want to listen again.
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