Friday, December 5, 2008

a portrait of the artist as a young man

I'm happy to report that I've managed to claw my way out of the dark place I talked about over the last few posts.  I couldn't have done it without the love and support of my family and friends.  I also want to thank the Eli Lilly Corporation for the wonders of Cymbalta - 60 mgs a day is guaranteed to turn your frown upside down.  Hooray for Big Pharma!  ...My recovery feels a bit tentative and precarious at this point, but I'm doing much better.

The struggle against personal demons left me out of it for a few weeks, so much so that I failed to notice that Neil Young has released another archival recording, Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury Hall, from Ann Arbor Michigan in 1968.  All of the recent archival tapes Neil has made available over the last few years are terrific and worth adding to your collection if you're a fan.  Live at the Fillmore East captures Neil Young and Crazy Horse in early 1970, between what are arguably Neil's two greatest studio albums, Everybody Knows this is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush. Then there's Massey Hall, 1971, a solo acoustic concert from the heady period between CSN&Y's Deja Vu and Neil's Harvest.  I like the Massey Hall show quite a bit, but it doesn't hold a candle to the Canterbury Hall tape, recorded a few days shy of Neil's 23rd birthday, in the immediate aftermath of Buffalo Springfield,  and on the eve of the release of Neil's self-titled first solo album.

From the first few strummed notes of the Live at Canterbury Hall opener, "On the Way Home" (which was initially sung by Richie Furay on the Springfield's Last Time Around), you're in for a special treat.  Even though the concert is just Neil armed with an acoustic guitar, the playing is crisp and his singing is angelic and expressive.  What really strikes me about the recording as a whole is that it's a snapshot of Neil at an especially pivotal transition point in his career.  His between song banter is that of a kid who knows he's a special talent but has yet to be jaded by the corrupting effects of money and mass adulation.  It's disarming to hear Neil speak with such light affability.  He tells silly jokes and stories with good natured ease and without the guarded, vaguely antagonistic tone he would soon frequently adopt as he became more and more of a bona fide rock 'n roll icon.  It's easy to forget that by this time he had already been through the crucible of the mid 60s Sunset Strip scene and its demise.  Listening to the recording, I was reminded of seeing Neil perform Greendale a few years ago at the Greek Theater.  At one point during the show, a cell phone went off.  Neil stopped in mid song, looked directly at the offending party, and then sneeringly asked, "Is that for me?"  Granted, I hate cell phone rudeness as well, but this was still Neil a billion light years away from the cheerful, pleasantly naive space he'd occupied 35 years earlier at Cantebury Hall.

For those of us who love Buffalo Springfield, Live at Canterbury Hall is all the more worthwhile as Neil plays lovely, stripped-down versions of "I am a Child," "Broken Arrow," "Out of My Mind," "Mr. Soul," and "Expecting to Fly."  There's also a quite stunning version of "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" thrown in, the first time I've ever heard Neil sing it himself... The performance is additionally peppered with great songs from his solo debut album - "The Loner," "If I Could Have Her Tonight," "I've Been Waiting for You," "The Old Laughing Lady," and "Last Trip to Tulsa."  A number of these songs were rarely if ever part of Neil's live repertoire later, so if you're partial to the early phase of his career, or if you're an obsessed fan interested in the bridge period between Neil as a member of Buffalo Springfield and Neil as a wildly imaginative solo artist, then Live at Canterbury Hall is a recording you need to have. 

1 comment:

Dan E said...

Glad you're feeling better, my man. I'm loving this record, too - that version of "Birds" really gets the waterworks going...