Review: Neil Young Live in Absolute Abundance

Neil Young/Royce Hall 1971/Shakey Records/Reprise
Four out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Neil Young/I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down/Shakey Records/Reprise
Four out of Five Stars

Neil Young/Citizen Kane Jr. Blues/Shakey Records/Reprise
Four out of Five Stars

Neil Young & Promise of the Real/Noise & Flowers/Shakey Records/Reprise
Four out of Five Stars

As Neil Young clears out his archives, avid followers are forced to reach between the cushions of their couches, or perhaps even take out a second mortgage, in order to afford Shakey’s essential offerings. Released on the heels of another box set from his Archive Series and two new studio releases — Barn and Toast — it’s hard to determine where one’s dollars need to be invested and just how the necessity for completion might impact one’s finances. The choices for acquisition ultimately amount to a somewhat difficult decision.

A spate of recent live albums from a seminal period in Young’s early solo career makes that reckoning no easier, even though in the case of three of these offerings — Royce Hall 1971, I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down and Citizen Kane Jr. Blues — they cover the same stretch of the early ‘70s. The first two of the three, both recorded in 1971, repeat many of the same songs (“On the Way Home,”  “Tell Me Why,” “Old Men,” “Journey Through the Past,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,”, and mostly in the same order no less. That’s hardly surprising considering the fact that they were performed only one day apart. I’m Happy That Y’all Came Down was famously an early bootleg, but regardless, if choices have to be made, one might consider that only one of these two volumes is really needed.

Of course, absolute diehards will absolutely demand both regardless.

Citizen Kane Jr. Blues, taken from a concert three years later at the Bottom Line, varies the set list from the earlier two offerings, and while there is some familiar fare — “Helpless,” “Long May You Run” and “Dance Dance Dance” being the most obvious — Young aficionados might relish the fact that in the case, the material is more of what one might describe as period pieces. Songs such as “Pushed It Over the Edge,” “Ambulance Blues,” “On the Beach,” and “Pardon My Heart,” several of which were culled from his then-current album, On the Beach, offer the opportunity to hear songs that Young rarely performed in concert after their initial unveiling. Although the format is the same—here again, it’s Young solo on guitar, harmonica, and occasional piano—it’s an interesting aside that lives up to its archival tag. In that regard, an early read of “Long May You Run,” shared two years prior to its appearance on the Stills, Young album, elicits a few chuckles from the audience who are obviously unaware of the song’s emotional underpinnings. Nevertheless, as always, it’s interesting to hear Young staking out new territory, especially when considering the enduring classic it would eventually become.

Noise & Flowers breaks the trajectory entirely, given the fact that it was drawn from a recent European show with Promise of the Real in tow. That said, the song selection mostly entails material drawn from his classic catalog—“Mr. Soul,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “Helpless,” “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and “Comes a Time,” among them. Some might argue that the need for this particular album is negligible, but given the abundance of live albums Young has recorded alongside Crazy Horse, it makes for an interesting juxtaposition when it comes to comparing the power and prowess the two entities share in sync. It’s mostly a draw as far as declaring anyone a winner, considering that the blend of power and prowess finds equal footing with both bands. And given the songs they survey, the need and necessity remain the same.

Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

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