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Innocence recaptured

Neil Young - Live at Massey Hall, 1971
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 16, 2007
Neil Young

Review by John Halverson

Old man look at my life,
I'm a lot like you were.

Neil Young is past 60 now and showing our age. He's lived our lives and then some--weathering artistic differences, the ebbs and flows of love and, recently, a brain aneurism. Most telling is how he coped with his son's cerebral palsy. For one 18-month period, Neil and his wife spent 14 hours a day, helping him learn how to crawl. So Neil has every right to stare sternly from an album cover as he did on last year's "Living With War." But you know, deep down, he's like the flannel shirts he still wears--rough on the outside but soft where it matters.

Live at Massey Hall, 1971 is nostalgia for those of us who remember, and a way for the rest to get a feel for the times. It was after innocence, just before disillusionment, during the waning days of the '60s, when a young, fresh-faced singer came from Canada like a soothing wind and wrote songs like "Old Man," "Tell Me Why" and "Cowgirl in the Sand." It was a time after flower children, before heavy metal. Marijuana still smelled sweet and cocaine was a nightmare yet to come. Now that time returns in bits and pieces in "Live At Massey Hall," It's the latest in his series of retrospective albums. And why not? The best sounds even better the second time around.

The songs on "Live at Massey," like the singer, are classics now, so it's fun and haunting to hear him say, "this is a new song" when you can play it in your head without prompting, decades after it was first recorded. Unlike his yet-to-come Crazy Horse days, Neil showed off a more mellow side in the early '70s. "Live at Massey" relies, quietly, on Neil's piano and guitar and his most original instrument--his voice. Neil captures both the tenderness of the era in songs like "Love on My Mind" and the rude awakenings, like "Ohio," a battle hymn to Kent State.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

We believed it would all be different. That Nixon would go; that we'd live pristine lives, forever young and unscathed.

There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind
I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.

"I didn't understand all the lyrics," a friend said of her first time around with Neil. "But it didn't matter." Strangely, his very personal words resonate with more clarity than they might have had he told us the whole story. The beauty of true art is that it shows itself in shadows. In "Live at Massey," it's all come full circle. The sound of 1971 gathering us in, in comfort and pain, 36 years after it was first heard.

Innocence recaptured.

Watch Neil Young's "Ohio" - Live at Massey Hall video

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