It’s no secret. I’m a huge Neil Young fan. So it’s a true honor and privilege to review Live At The Cellar Door, the latest in Neil’s Archives Performance Series. It’s a collection of songs performed during Young’s intimate six-shows at The Cellar Door in Washington D.C. between November 30th and December 2nd, 1970. For those keeping score, this is just a few months after Reprise released Neil’s third solo album After The Gold Rush and six months after Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had imploded under the weight of their own success.
Live At The Cellar Door is made for collectors and die-hard fans. Henry Lewy’s live eight-track recordings are beautifully executed and Chris Bellman’s mastering is a work of art. The music is simple and straightforward. It’s all acoustic with Neil switching between guitar and piano. And the guitar work is especially worth noting due to how the album was recorded. The guitar is incredibly present and well mic’d — much more so than the piano tracks in fact.
The album is an intimate look into a slice of time. Neil was en route to play 2 dates at Carnegie Hall later in December so he booked a warm-up run of six shows at D.C’s Cellar Door Club — which had a capacity of less than 200. You can hear his comfort level and the rapport he has with the audience. But you can also hear him working out iterations of the songs and feeling his way along with new phrasings. He plays Cinnamon Girl on piano and he debuts an early version of Old Man.
At 25, he was already a proper star through his association with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but as a solo artist, he was still just starting down the path that we now have the privilege of looking at in hindsight. Who knows what the secret sauce of such a long and prolific career is? But I think that I can hear some of that magic in this bit of recorded history. And the more I listen to it, the more amazed I am. 43 years later, this music carries the same emotions and hopes and expectations as the days when he first opened his mouth.
I have to be honest. I missed most of the jewels the first time I listened to the album. I was in a Crazy Horse mood and this record is anything but that. I thought it to be soft and delicate and it went right over my head. But then today, the heaviness and deepness of Expecting To Fly hit me right in the gut. The Buffalo Springfield album version is lush and psychedelic but not this one. This is Neil at his best. Wailing and pounding the piano. Planning how to keep his art fresh. Choosing an artistic path that has been incredibly moving and relevant. And making music that speaks to generations.
Utah Philipps once said that the past didn’t go anywhere. That he could go outside and pick up a rock that’s older than the oldest song you know and drop it on your foot. I tend to agree. Thank you Neil Young. Thank you Henry Lewy. Thank you Chris Bellman. The past didn’t go anywhere.
Now go and pick up the album. It drops on 12/10. Live At The Cellar Door will be released digitally, on CD, and on 180-gram vinyl (pressed at Pallas in Germany).
The track-listing for Live At The Cellar Door is as follows:
Tell Me Why — After The Gold Rush
Only Love Can Break Your Heart — After The Gold Rush
After The Gold Rush — After The Gold Rush
Expecting To Fly — Buffalo Springfield Again
Bad Fog Of Loneliness — Archives Vol. 1 1963-1972
Old Man from —Harvest
Birds —After The Gold Rush
Don’t Let It Bring You Down — After The Gold Rush
See The Sky About To Rain — On The Beach
Cinnamon Girl — Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
I Am A Child from— Last Time Around
Down By The River — Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong — Buffalo Springfield