Friday, October 19, 2007

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live Rust

In hindsight, Neil Young released Decade two years too early. While his next two studio albums may have seemed like the start of a brilliant second act at the time, they were really the grand finale of Young's first act, one quiet, one loud, end of the decade. Young followed the release of Rust Never Sleeps with an obligatory curtain call: the double-live LP.

Seeing as it contains songs from the previous two albums and an evenly-distributed sampling of older favourites, Live Rust could arguably be viewed as the definitive summary of Young's 70s work. I say it's not, because it's not nearly as comprehensive as Decade and all played with the same backing band, but to each his own.

Actually, as self-congratulatory double-live albums go, Live Rust is pretty strong. Side one is all acoustic tracks, most of them not radically re-worked, but the harmonica parts on "Comes a Time" are particularly good. Side two consists of lean electric numbers, with one more acoustic interlude ("Needle"). Here things get a bit more interesting as we get to hear a few non-Crazy Horse tracks get amped up by the pummeling Horse. "The Loner", in particular, benefits from this treatment, and is transformed from a studio-crafted pop song into a full-throttle garage stomper. Listen to Young attack those string charts, turning the melodies into snarling guitar leads.

The album starts to drag a bit on the second record, as Young hauls out the warhorses ("Cortez", "Hurricane") and begins to stretch out. It's always nice to hear a couple of those played for as long as Young likes, but "Tonight's the Night" doesn't need to be seven minutes long. And without the subtle touches like Everybody Knows's mournful fiddle lines or momentum shifters like Zuma's acoustic numbers, Crazy Horse starts to sound the same over the course of two records.

The biggest complaint I have about Live Rust, solid though it may be, is the woefully unimaginative setlist. The album contains sixteen songs. Four are from Rust Never Sleeps (including both versions of the album's signature track). Two are from the previous album. Fine, they're the most recent releases. Of the remaining ten songs, nine appear on Decade. Only "When You Dance" (which, by the way, is terrific here) could qualify as a lesser-known song. I mean, I guess the album's supposed to function as a de facto live greatest hits set, so fine. But still, this is a guy who'd already released two entire albums of live recordings of songs the audience had never heard before. Young was known for filling out his sets with all manner of forgotten album tracks and unreleased gems. I have a bootleg of a show from 1976 that includes a song that would later turn up on Ragged Glory, which came out fourteen years later.

I'm not saying he should have filled Live Rust with unknown numbers; that's not the point of the album. Just that, since he had already celebrated his best known work on Decade only two years earlier, why not throw a few more curve balls on the double-live album? I love "Cinnamon Girl" as much as the next Young fan, but I'd much rather hear a version of, say, "World On a String" or "Yonder Stands the Sinner".

Okay, enough bitching. As far as double-live albums go, it is pretty strong overall. And, in hindsight, it would stand as an end-of-an-era summation before Young took some rather strange creative turns. Starting Monday I'll get into Young's sometimes bizarre, occasionally awful eighties material, with which he regularly taunted and tested the loyalties of both his audience and, most notoriously, his label.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Neil Young - "Comes a Time [live]" and Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "The Loner [live]"

No comments: