"This is the album that should have come out between After the Gold Rushand Harvest," Neil Young says of Live at Massey Hall, a recording of his solo performance in Toronto in January 1971 andthe second release in Young's Performance Archives series. "David Briggs, my producer, was adamant that this should be the record," rather than Harvest,which Young wanted in the stores. "As I listen to this today, I can see why." According to Jimmy McDonough's Neil Young biography, Shakey,at the time Young would not even listen to the tapes Briggs—Young's trusted producer, the "fifth member" of Crazy Horse, who was instrumental to so much of Young's best recorded work—had made in Toronto, despite Briggs's passionate advocacy.
Well, it's out now, and it's among the strongest albums of Neil Young's Olympian career. Perhaps the most important thing about Massey Hallis the pacing of Young's performance: he is in no hurry to get anywhere, and so his great talent as a rhythm player—one aspect of Young's musicianship not praised nearly often enough—comes through in stately but passionate renditions of "There's a World," "See the Sky About to Rain," "Don't Let it Bring You Down," and "Journey Through the Past," where he lets his melodies stretch out over slow, eerie tempos. A month later, performing on BBC2 in Concert,Young would let the beat of "Journey Through the Past" get away from him and try to save it by bashing the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis; also a great performance, but on Massey Hall you feel like you're hearing the definitive reading of every song, whether it's an unsettling solo acoustic performance of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's overdriven "Down By the River" or "Helpless" minus Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
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There is no need to preach to Young fanatics, who will rush out and buy the thing no matter what. For people who have a casual interest in Neil Young's music, or those who prefer the Harvestside of his persona, though, this album will be a great source of pleasure and perhaps even a major discovery. For one thing, the set list includes songs a casual fan probably hasn't heard before: until now, "Journey Through the Past" and "Love in Mind" have only been legitimately available on the out-of-print Time Fades Away;"Bad Fog of Loneliness" has never made it onto a record ("I was gonna do it with Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three," Young says of a cancelled appearance on the Johnny Cash Show,speaking in a distracted way that makes him sound weirdly like Kurt Cobain for a moment); and "Dance Dance Dance" has only been released as a cover by the late Danny Whitten's version of Crazy Horse. Live at Massey Hall is a beautiful recording of Neil Young at one of his creative peaks, making lovely, scary music. (Oliver Hall)