Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives

Solo acoustic gig from January 1971 is among the earliest concert footage of Young released to date

Since I first had learned about it a few weeks ago, I had been looking forward to the latest release by Neil Young, which came out Friday, March 26. Not only is Young Shakespeare a brilliant title, but it’s yet another highlight from Young’s archives. The live album and concert film comes only four weeks after Way Down in the Rust Bucket, which captures a terrific November 1990 live performance with Crazy Horse I previously reviewed here, and four months following the massive box set Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976.

Young Shakespeare documents an acoustic solo concert at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. Neil Young was 25 years old at the time and had just entered what arguably is the best period of his solo career. Only four months earlier, he had released After the Gold Rush. Harvest, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night were still about one, three and four years into the future, respectively.

Part of Young’s Journey Through the Past solo tour, the Shakespeare gig happened only three days after the famous Massey Hall show in Toronto Canada. The latter concert was captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which came out in March 2007 as the second release from Young’s Archives Performance Series. A vast amount of additional albums have since appeared in the series. If I see this correctly, Young Shakespeare is the second release of Volume 03, even though it’s registered as Volume 03.5. Well, I’m not an archivist.

As reported by NME, initially, video footage of the concert was filmed by German television at the time, but it never aired. Only bits and pieces recorded by visitors that night had been floating around among Young fans. Young considers the gig as superior to the Massey Hall show, calling it “a more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall” on his archives website last year. “Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” he added. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever. ‘Young Shakespeare’ is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

I think Young may be right. The true magic of Young Shakespeare isn’t the set list. Neil Young fans have heard these songs a million times before. What I find fascinating are his announcements that illustrate what went through his mind at the time. They also convey Young’s great sense of humor. The entire gig comes across as very intimate. It’s almost like you’re in the same room with Young, and he’s chatting and cracking jokes while tuning his guitar for the next song. How about some music?

The first tune I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites: The Needle and the Damage Done. Mind you, when Young performed the song that night, it had not been recorded yet. I was included on his fourth studio album Harvest released in February 1972.

Dance Dance Dance is a track from Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album that came out in February 1971. At the time of the Shakespeare gig, it was another yet-to-be-released tune. Young cheerfully calls it hoedown music.

Here’s a medley of A Man Needs a Maid and Heart of Gold, performed on the piano. Young introduces it by saying he hasn’t played the piano for a long time and usually screws it up. He cheerfully adds, “But you’ve never heard it before anyway, so you probably think that’s the way it is, and it’ll be alright.” Obviously, Young was correct. Both songs would appear on Harvest.

In addition to yet-to-be released songs at the time, Young played some old tunes. After all, his solo tour was titled Journey Through the Past. Here’s one of them, Down by the River, a song from his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere released in May 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Sugar Mountain. Young wrote this song on November 12, 1964, which was his 19th birthday. The tune’s first official release was a live version, which became the b-side of Young’s first solo single The Loner from February 1969. It’s always been on of my favorite Neil tunes. It also cracks me up when Young says, “If you don’t know the words…just, you know, you’re all university students. Just memorize them after the first time!”

Here’s the full track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain

NME notes Young Shakespeare is only predated by footage from Young’s gigs at New York’s Café Feenjon in June 1970, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Fillmore East in March 1970. Obviously, there’s also the aforementioned Live at Massey Hall 1971, so I assume NME referred to video recordings. The new release is available on CD, vinyl and major streaming platforms. The DVD is available exclusively in Young’s own store.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

16 thoughts on “Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives”

  1. I think you’re right that the best material from 1969-1972 is his best stuff. He’s made a lot of great records – I have a lot of time for 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps – but After the Gold Rush and the best parts of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Harvest are amazingly good. I haven’t been keeping up with the wealth of archival stuff he’s been releasing – feels like Rust Bucket only just came out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Without meaning to over-analyze things here, it almost feels to me Neil realizes most of his life is over and he has limited time left to release material from his apparently vast archives. Perhaps that’s why he has been so prolific with his releases.

      The other thing is – and I say this as somebody who likes his music a lot – Neil tends to be unpredictable, and there’s always ups and downs. What makes “Young Shakespeare” so striking ito me is it’s the second archives release in a row (after Rust Bucket) I go as far as calling a gem!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a great version of Down By The River! You have to wonder what else he is sitting on…it’s great that he is releasing all of this music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. What I find particularly fascinating about this release is Neil’s talking to the audience.

      His announcement of “The Needle and the Damage Done” is particularly revealing. I also like his sense of humor that comes through on other occasions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was speaking pretty freely I do agree…more than I remember.
        This is like a treasure trove to me…my favorite period of his and this is just great! Thanks man for the heads up.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sure you’ve read this about Sugar Mountain:
    “In a concert at the Albert Hall in London on October 29, 1970, Joni Mitchell, who was already friends with Young by the time he wrote this song, opened her song “Circle Game” with this speech:

    Mitchell: “In 1965 I was up in Canada, and there was a friend of mine up there who had just left a rock’n’roll band (…) he had just newly turned 21, and that meant he was no longer allowed into his favourite haunt, which was kind of a teeny-bopper club and once you’re over 21 you couldn’t get back in there anymore; so he was really feeling terrible because his girlfriends and everybody that he wanted to hang out with, his band could still go there, you know, but it’s one of the things that drove him to become a folk singer was that he couldn’t play in this club anymore. ‘Cause he was over the hill. (…) So he wrote this song that was called “Oh to live on sugar mountain” which was a lament for his lost youth. (…)”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christian, you’re right, the between song banter is worth buy this for alone. Strange to think he did this show during his “Journey Through the Past” Tour. Is that the same as the Time Fades Away Tour (which Journey Through the Past is on.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Based on Wikipedia, it appears “Time Fades Away” is the tour Neil did after the release of the Harvest album in Feb 1972. “Young Shakespeare” was captured during a solo tour in early 1971.

      What’s a bit confusing is there also is a soundtrack album by Neil from November 1972, which is called “Journey Through the Past” as well. Among others it also includes live recordings, though not solo but with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, Neil Never Sleeps – I like it! Maybe you should suggest it to him as an album title!😆

      On a more serious note, you are right about Neil. For an artist at this stage of their career, Neil’s pace is certainly remarkable. Scratch that and make that any artist, young or mature!

      While with Neil who oftentimes is driven by impulse outcomes can vary, I have to say this album and Deep in the Rust Bucket are true gems!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will have to check the latest releases out. Yes he doesn’t seem to sit back and take it easy. He seems to be doing what he wants to do.

        Liked by 1 person

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