REVIEW: Neil Young’s “Live At Massey Hall 1971”

Had Neil Young listened to one of his close friends in 1971, the recording which appears on Live At Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise) would have been a double LP released inbetween After The Gold Rush and Harvest. Always a forward thinker, Young had traveled to Nashville, started working on what would become Harvest and pretty much forgot about the live album project. While bootlegs of varying quality have circulated over the years, this is the first time an an official version has been released, from a time in Young’s career when he was becoming a star, and greater stardom was just around the corner.

Diehard Neil Young fans know he has recorded more music than he has released, and for years has hinted and teased them with the announcement of an Archives series, which turned into a box set. It has been delayed and canceled many times over, to the point where fans were wondering if it was just a pipe dream. No longer.

Live At Massey Hall 1971 is a 17-song performance recorded in Toronto, a homecoming of sorts for Young. The recording features just Young and him playing the guitar and piano. No Crazy Horse, no friends sitting in. It’s very intimate and at times very somber (as is the case with a lot of Young’s music), but it is a homecoming of sorts for Young, and the crowd responds as if it was the greatest rock show on Earth. The song selection is a look back at what Young became known for up until early 1971, with great performances of “Tell Me Why”, “Cowgirl In The Sand”, and “I Am A Child”. He announces at the beginning of the show that he would like to introduce some new material, songs that would end up on the hit album Harvest. One is able to hear “Old Man”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and a unique combination of “A Man Needs A Maid” and “Heart Of Gold” that compliment each either quite well, as if they were two sides of the same coin. There’s a hint of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young when he performs “Ohio”, and one may be able to remember a time when the topic of the song would spark a discussion about social change.

Those who enjoy the acoustic side of Young’s work, especially from a period in his music before he jumped from genre to genre, will enjoy Live At Massey Hall 1971 immensely. For impatient NY fans, he promises an 8CD/2DVD Archives box set at the end of 2007.

(The CD/DVD combo of Live At Massey Hall 1971 is available through CD Universe.)