Neil Young – Live at the Cellar Door (Dec. 1970) – Reprise, 45:06 [12/3/13] ****:
(Neil Young – vocals, acoustic guitar; piano)
Listening to familiar, now prime, Neil Young classic tunes over forty years later is like opening a time capsule of nostalgia. For those of us that went through our young adult and college years in the late ’60s and early ’70s, having Neil Young in our lives brought a purity and sweetness that is hard to replicate so many decades later. Neil had a unique appeal to both young men and women that would be hard to find in these much more cynical digital times. Women swooned over Young and men wanted to be Neil. His voice was unique in its innocence and reediness. He had a harder electric side, even during Buffalo Springfield, but his solo acoustic work had a more visceral stronger effect on his fans. It was like Neil was sharing his naked private life with his audience and it made you feel special like a friend sharing his inner most secrets.
Crosby, Stills , Nash, and Young had just split up (for the first time) just six months prior to Neil Young’s six show stand at the iconic Cellar Door club in Washington D.C. Looking back now, December of 1970 was a significant time period for this small club, as a mere few weeks later, Miles Davis, in the midst of exploring his “electric period” also utilized the Cellar Door for a four-night run (reissued on six CDs in 2005) with a new band featuring Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, and Michael Henderson.
Young’s stand at the Cellar Door was a “rehearsal” for a two night Carnegie Hall concert later in December. Utilizing material from Buffalo Springfield, and his own albums as a band leader, we find Neil relaxed and still somewhat stage-shy at age 25. The song list is now all familiar, but at that time he was debuting “Old Man” and “See the Sky About to Rain” for the first time in a live setting. The latter was not to be released on album till 1974, and the former two years earlier on Harvest when Young’s solo career really took off. It is also a treat to hear “Cinnamon Girl” played on piano, whereas it is much more remembered as an electric guitar work-out later in his career.
Other special treats on this CD are “Bad Fog of Loneliness,” which can be found only on a live Massey Hall release, and on his massive Archives box set with the Stray Gators. “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” was done before with Buffalo Springfield, but with Richie Furay on lead vocal. Hearing “Down by the River” on acoustic guitar solo, unlike his later electric concert closing versions, is revelatory.
Listening to Live at the Cellar Door, oh so many years later, is a revisit to one’s youth when anything was possible, at least when attending an early Neil Young acoustic show. Now when we have children the same age as Neil was in 1970, it certainly is a cosmic experience. Neil is still going strong at age 68. Many of us are still trying to keep up, basking in his glory..
TrackList: Tell Me Why, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, After the Goldrush, Expecting to Fly, Bad Fog of Loneliness, Old Man, Birds, Don’t Let it Bring You Down, See the Sky About to Rain, Cinnamon Girl, I Am a Child, Down By the River, Flying on the Ground is Wrong