Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Live at the Fillmore East
Steve’s Stocking Stuffer Suggestions, Vol. 4
Neil Young has finally stuck a crowbar in his legendary vault and lord have mercy, he’s pulled out a beauty. Live at the Fillmore East, a ferocious 1970 show from Bill Graham’s legendary venue, was recorded just as Neil was truly finding his creative voice. He had already done Déjà Vu with CSN and released a hit album Everybody Knows this is Nowhere. He was at the beginning of a run of genius albums that spanned the entire seventies – from After the Gold Rush to Harvest to Tonight’s the Night to On the Beach to Rust Never Sleeps, with many brilliantly eccentric stops in between.
Unlike many of archival releases by rock legends, such as the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, the presentation of Live at the Fillmore is minimal. There are no deluxe booklets or extensive liner notes. Just an LP-style cardboard gatefold sleeve and a single piece of paper with technical notes. A photo of a review of the show states that this concert began with a solo acoustic set by Neil, and while that would be incredible to hear, it’s safe to assume that whatever recordings of that set exist were not up to Neil’s very high standards for sound quality. This is a CD designed for the express purpose of being turned up loud.
By that standard, Live at the Fillmore East is a masterpiece. Neil and his primitive pickup band Crazy Horse have a simple, unspoken goal, and that is to rock. And rock they do. Indeed, they rock very hard. They rock with unbridled abandon. They rock with undaunted fury. They rock without apology. They rock, no questions asked, no quarter given. They rock on their terms — in no uncertain terms. There is rocking that needs to be done, and Neil Young & Crazy Horse are more than happy to carry that load.
Interplay between Neil and rhythm guitarist Danny Whitten is phenomenal. Like Keith and Woody in the Stones, they are in such psychic lockstep, it’s often hard to figure out who’s playing what. Highlights include the opener, a high-energy “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere.” But the reason to stuff the stocking of you or a loved one with Live at the Fillmore East are the truly epic versions of “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” As great as they are in their studio versions, these songs are meant to be taken out on the road and opened up. Here they’re 12 and 16 minutes apiece, and if anything, they end too soon.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Bob Dylan, New Morning
Steve’s Stocking Stuffer Suggestions, Vol. III
New Morning is to Bob Dylan what Fables of the Reconstruction is to R.E.M. or Presence is to Led Zeppelin. It’s rarely listed in the handful of the artist’s greatest records, but holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of their most devoted fans.
This was the final record in Dylan’s Country Gentleman era, which began as a retreat from madness after the motorcycle crash following his 1966 world tour. He got off the road, and traded in his Mod suits, Beatle boots and mad-genius afro for seersucker, sandals and a patchy beard. In the rural quiet of Woodstock and Saugerties, NY, he started to raise a family and relax a bit. (Bob devoted an entire chapter of his 2004 memoir Chronicles Volume One to this fascinating period.)
But even in his downtime, Dylan was prodigious and brilliant. He laid down over 100 covers and originals with the Band at their Big Pink house, which became known as “the Basement Tapes.” Then came the quiet masterpiece John Wesley Harding, the country Nashville Skyline, the leave-me-alone Self Portrait and then, in 1970, New Morning.
Unlike the folkie anthems and speed-freak put-downs that characterized his music up to Blonde on Blonde, the music of this era evokes contentment, family, wedded bliss, spiritual discovery, mountains’ majesty, warm hearths, country roads and cascading streams. Take this stanza from “Sign on the Window.”
Build me a cabin in Utah
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout
Have a bunch of kids who call me ‘Pa’
That must be what it’s all about
That must be what it’s all about
This was also the first record on which Dylan played a lot of piano (something he now does every night on tour), which helps give New Morning a warm, intimate feel. There’s the Dylan standard “If Not for You,” and a hot toddy of deep-catalog Bob: “Day of the Locusts,” about his trip to Princeton to receive an honorary degree; “Went to See the Gypsy” about an alleged meeting with Elvis; the Walden-worthy “Time Passes Slowly”; the randy “One More Weekend” and the semi-macho “The Man in Me.”
But there are three tracks that make New Morning an ideal stocking stuffer. The charming waltz “Winterlude,” “Father of Night” and “Three Angels” are the closest one can get to A Very Dylan Christmas. And the title cut is a perfect New Year’s tune. The ideal track to kick off some late-night festivities after putting Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on mute.
Too bad New Morning was not upgraded as part of the recent Bob Dylan Revisited program. The CD has a slight hiss which would not be missed were it gone. Nevertheless this is one of the true finds in his bottomless catalog. As Dylan says at the end of the beatnik-scat ditty “If Dogs Run Free,” Get it, baby.