Neil Young had a hell of 1970. Let’s review. He kicked off the year with a quick European jaunt with Crosby, Stills & Nash, where they were hailed as “the American Beatles.” In February and March he took Crazy Horse on a tour of U.S. theaters. The band’s mind-splitting onstage powers can be best heard on the absolutely essential Fillmore East live album belatedly released in 2006. Also in March, CSNY released Deja Vu, which sold millions, and the group played to the assembled hordes in stadiums all over the country that summer. At some point while all of this heady action was going on, Neil put the finishing touches on After The Gold Rush. Released in August, it remains one of the songwriter’s bona fide masterpieces. Other songwriters might spend the rest of their careers resting on such a year’s laurels. Shakey, of course, tried to outdo himself all decade-long
Live At The Cellar Door, released at the tail end of last year, puts a cap on Neil’s stupendous 1970. Recorded at a tiny Washington D.C. club towards the end of the year, it captures the artist in a reflective, inspired mood, clearly enjoying the intimacy and rapport with his audience after his CSNY summer. On solo acoustic guitar and piano (“a nine-foot Steinway,” Neil tells us), he plays several fresh Gold Rush cuts, dips into the Buffalo Springfield catalog (dig the beautiful piano rendition of “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”) and debuts a handful of new songs (the “Old Man” here is apparently the first time he performed the song in public). The crystal clear recording puts the listener front-and-center, a privileged position indeed.
Of course, when Live At The Cellar Door was announced last fall, there was plenty of grumbling in the Neil fanatic community. Do we really need another solo acoustic Performance Series from this period, when we’ve already got the masterful Massey Hall release recorded just a few months later? Neil’s live archives are swelling with shows from the 1970s that are just begging for official release (Stray Gators ’73, Santa Monica Flyers ’73, Crazy Horse ’76, to name just a few). The complaints are valid, but just listen to the heartstopping rendition of “Expecting To Fly,” or the wild piano version of “Cinnamon Girl,” or the fragile “Birds”… well, what is there to complain about? This is as good as it gets. words / t wilcox