red lights


Neil Young and Crazy Horse's
sweet but short raucous ride

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live at the Fillmore East
(Reprise Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 28, 2006
Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Review by Tony Bonyata

Early live recordings of Neil Young with Crazy Horse, and most importantly Danny Whitten (Crazy Horse's founding member and guitarist who died of a heroin overdose in 1972), have long been revered by bootleg collectors. But now, for the first time, Young has officially released the first of these monumental performances for a six-song, 43-minute partial document of two shows from March 6th and 7th at Bill Graham's famed rock venue the Fillmore East.

Marking the first of an ongoing project known as the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, Live at the Fillmore East is a revelatory document of the genesis of a truly amazing live rock act; one that was not only at their inception as a performing band when this was recorded, but also smack dab in their prime, as this album soundly proves. The sturdy foundation of rhythms that bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina lay down are the bedrock for the remaining musicians - keyboardist and producer-arranger Jack Nitzsche, and guitarists Young and Whitten - to build upon. And it's the stinging, sparring and often intoxicating interplay between the latter two that makes this particular recording so rewarding.

Rarely in rock - save for Thin Lizzy's Scott Gorham & Brian Robertson, Television's Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd and Steve Hunter & Dick Wagner ( Lou Reed / Alice Cooper) - have the conversations between two guitarists been so engaging, spirited and revelatory. Many of these lengthy, fiery jams (not to be confused with the aimless, noodling solos of so many "jam" bands) evoke a sense of rapture, fear, humor, along with a blood-rushing shot of adrenaline, as if reading from a Quentin Tarantino screenplay.

Three of the six tracks featured are from Young's second solo album, Everybody Knows This Nowhere, which was also his first with Crazy Horse as his backing band. The quintet loosely swaggers through a saddle-sore, country take of the title track, before turning both "Down By The River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand" into jaw-dropping epic exercises in musicianship. On both of these wonderments the band straddles a fine line between slop and technical proficiency, with Whitten and Young's lengthy, hypnotic guitar interplay with one another as the centerpieces for both numbers.

For the intro of "Wonderin'" Young chuckles, "This is a song from our new album... when we record it." Without really realizing the humor in his statement, this is a song that wouldn't be officially released for thirteen more years, when it appeared on his 1983 rockabilly rave-up Everybody's Rockin'. For "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown" Danny Whitten delivers a gravelly, yet endearing vocal on this early country-rock hybrid - the title later shortened to "Downtown" for Crazy Horse's own 1971 self-titled debut album.

Despite the spark and burn of this incendiary live set - all beautifully re-mastered to sound as if it was recorded today - the biggest shortcoming is that there are only six tracks presented and sold as a full album. While a 43-minute, six-track album wasn't odd to see during the '70s, when self-indulgent solos often padded out time, today people expect a bit more when shelling out fifteen-plus bucks for a CD. And as great as an insight this is into one of rock's greatest live acts, six songs just aren't enough. Hopefully when Young releases further albums as part of his Archives Performance Series, he'll feel a little more generous.

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