The Bluenotes phase confused people, and not only because he chose a band name that was both affiliated with somebody else, and not exactly a somebody known for guitar-based blues with slick horns. Neil changed the band’s name to Ten Men Workin’, after the first song on This Note’s For You, and while the rhythm section would return a few times in the future, the album remains unique in the catalog.
But as he’s proven before, it’s all one song, and hindsight has been very kind to some of his less successful experiments. In a rare case of revisionism, the band now called Bluenote Café is celebrated with its own installment in his Performance Archive Series, and a double disc to boot. Where the album was a challenge, Bluenote Café presents two and a half hours of music in two sets, giving plenty of room for the band to stretch, and the songs to breathe.
The music comes from three stages of the Bluenotes era—a couple of shows when Crazy Horse was augmented with a horn section, a club tour with the established band on the album’s release, and then a shed tour later in the summer. In addition to most of This Note’s For You, several songs make their first album appearance, and a few other rarities help round out the picture. “Welcome To The Big Room” is something of a theme song, in a band that had several. “Don't Take Your Love Away From Me” translates well from the Shocking Pinks, “Hello Lonely Woman” is given a jolt of energy compared the pre-fame demo, and “Soul Of A Woman” is otherwise similar to the one on A Treasure but for the horns. A true highlight of the first set is “Bad News Comes To Town”, a terrific soul burner that uses the extra players as part of the dressing.
“I’m Goin’” was buried on the B-side of “Ten Men Workin’”; though this is a later recording, it’s still a one-chord song with the same horn parts, but plenty of guitar. “Ordinary People” sounds much better in this context, with Ben (or Poncho) yelling along instead of Neil’s overdubbed asides. “Crime In The City” (not to be confused with “Life In the City”) adds a little more edge than the one that made it to Freedom, with different but not all of the verses from the song’s original epic length. Here’s it’s followed by “Crime Of The Heart”, a fairly simple idea with more complicated chords than Neil usually plays. “Doghouse” is pretty stupid, but that didn’t stop Pegi from covering it a few years ago. “Fool For Your Love” is tighter than the Road Rock version, yet still sterile.
In the encore section, exactly two songs come from previous albums: “On The Way Home”, with the horns playing the arrangement from the Buffalo Springfield recording, and “Tonight’s The Night”, stretched to 20 minutes but still managing to be the best performance of the song above the rest.
People who chronicle this stuff will tell you that there is more music from this era to be heard, and maybe the Archives box dedicated to the ‘80s will have more. For now, Bluenote Café helps to prove that Neil’s best work of the decade was on stage. Just as with A Treasure, it helps whet the appetite for further installments.
Neil Young and Bluenote Café Bluenote Café (2015)—3½