Friday, December 13, 2013

Neil Young 46: Cellar Door and Carnegie Hall

One of the selling points for the Blu-ray version of Neil’s Archives box was that it provided the capability to download additional material as it became available. His rationale was that if he discovered something he considered Archive-worthy, it would go right into the virtual filing cabinet around which the project was formatted. And for the better part of a year, right around each month’s full moon, a new item would pop up to add to the pile of music already contained in the set. Since then, nothing. (And after the official Archives website was launched, that became the repository for material old and new.)
In a move guaranteed to irritate those Blu-ray owners, Live At The Cellar Door, compiled from six shows over three days late in 1970, emerged as a standalone CD. This installment of his Performance Archive Series (dubbed “2.5” to go between the already-established 2 and 3) was recorded a whopping six weeks prior to the shows sampled for Live At Massey Hall. Given that this period had been well mined—“See The Sky About To Rain” having already appeared on the box—and folks were clamoring for any news on the status of Archives Vol. II and beyond, this disc may have seemed redundant to those of us without Blu-ray players. Were these solo acoustic performances really that different from any others, in the way that shows by the likes of, for example, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa or even Neil with Crazy Horse might have been?
Luckily, they are a little different. “Expecting To Fly” receives a nice treatment at the piano, for example. So does, amazingly, “Cinnamon Girl”, so often associated with electric fuzz, and here with an intro resembling that of “After The Gold Rush”, which is likely the reason for the spontaneous applause. He acknowledges that he never did it that way before, and it’s pretty clear why. In fact, half of the album is a showcase for his “almost a year” of piano playing.
Given the between-song “raps” that dotted similar releases, Live At The Cellar Door mostly sticks to the music, except for a three-minute detour before “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”. The prelude is punctuated by his fingers messing with the piano strings to comic effect, while the song itself travels from sorrowful to jaunty and back. It’s one performance that makes the album worth owning.

Ever oblivious to a marketing study, eight years later Neil chose to inaugurate his Official Bootleg Series with a show recorded at Carnegie Hall within days of the Cellar Door shows. With the idea that he’d replicate classic vinyl boots with original artwork but optimal sound, in this case the boot in question preserved the second of two performances, while the one he put out was the first.
Unlike many of the shows he’s released lately, this one is a complete performance, 23 songs running to two CDs, split right where the intermission occurred. In addition to songs heard on Cellar Door, “Wonderin’” is given a pleasant acoustic reading, “The Loner” is similar to the 4 Way Street arrangement (but not in a medley), and “Southern Man” is just as frenzied stripped down. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is transferred to piano, and there’s a nice little exploratory acoustic passage before “Dance Dance Dance” that sounds almost like “Music Is Love”. “Sugar Mountain” gets interrupted a few times because the crowd won’t clap in rhythm or sing along. A lot of banter is left in, including further admonishments of the crowd. (The similarity of his piano intros is the source of one such exchange.) Were this title available before Cellar Door, it would be preferable, but it wasn’t, so there it is.

Neil Young Live At The Cellar Door (2013)—3
Neil Young
Carnegie Hall 1970 (2021)—3