Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Neil Young unplugged again and create your own dub

Ungrateful heretic that I am, I wasn't bowled over when Neil Young finally starting opening his vaults to reveal some early 70's live material, specifically a Danny Whitten-era Crazy Horse show from 1970 (Live at the Filmore East, released a mere three months ago). But now on the hells of that comes, yet another archival live release from around the same time: Live at Massey Hall. The big deal is supposed to be that 1) it was a home-coming show in Canada and 2) he's interpreting songs that had just appeared on After the Goldrush. That makes for nice history but what's even more important about the set is that it reminds us that in addition to his role as a punk and grunge godfather, the other reason that Young's revered is because of his amazing songwriting talents.

By the time of this 1971 show, Young had only been a U.S. (California to be exact) resident for about five years, yet in that time, he had formed and left Buffalo Springfield and was already staking his claim as an important artist on his own with just two albums under his belt. Yet, other than his self-titled debut, the other two records still hold up as two of his finest (Goldrush, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere). When he gives shout outs to Canada ("Journey Though the Past," "Helpless," which appear back-to-back), there's not only crowd cheers but also a real sense that Young himself still has a lot of feeling for his home country.

What's fascinating about the show is the way he skips around his catalog as it was still unfolding. He slips in "Heart of Gold" as a medley with "A Man Needs A Maid" with the audience unaware that they were listening to a future number one hit (on the following year's Harvest). "Journey Through the Past" would appear two years later on Time Fades Away (maybe his most under-rated album). Also, "Bad Fog of Loneliness" is first heard... here actually. Young's mind and talent were working so fast that songs would come and go, appearing on albums years later when he thought that they appropriately fit the theme.

The performance itself is great too- I'd take it over Unplugged for intimacy and over the acoustic half of Live Rust for its yearning and not-yet-weathered outlook. Also, the way he takes a song like "Cowgirl in the Sand" away from its guitar battles so we can savor the beautiful song itself is a joy. And the quiet "There's A World" sounds much better here than with an orchestra behind it (as heard on Harvest).

Who knows what we'll hear from him in another four months? Hopefully, the long-promised Archives aka Decade II box set isn't far away where we'll hear some unheard songs and unfamiliar versions.

On a totally different topic, homemade mixing sites aren't new to the web but they're always fun to come across. The idea is a great, egalitarian one- even with no musicianship, you just click on buttons on a page and create your own music but adding or subtracting instruments, vocals, noises and other sounds. A recent find is Infinite Wheel which offers a variety of these types of pages. My personal favorite are the dub pages which allow you to pick the backing music plus assorted sound effects to drop in and out at will. Be your own DJ now! Impress your friends!


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