Release Date: Dec 10, 2013
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Singer/Songwriter, Folk-Rock, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Album Rock, Country-Rock
As with any "archival" release — Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series, for instance, or the last several hundred Grateful Dead offerings — there are really two distinct ways of approaching Neil Young's Live at the Cellar Door, a collection of 13 tracks culled from a six-night stand at the Washington D. C. nightclub in late 1970.
The winter of 1970 was a time of real transition for Neil Young. In the summer he’d released After the Gold Rush, which had been a hit but was received poorly by critics. Just before that he’d gone through the (first) split of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – who wouldn’t be seen in that formation again for another four years. Now he had his sights set on a solo December run at New York’s Carnegie Hall and so, by way of a warm-up, at the end of November he set himself up a three night, six-set-stand at Washington’s Cellar Door club where he played songs old and new to crowds of less than 200 appreciative listeners.
I once found an old Neil Young bootleg in my parents’ record collection and thought it was the greatest thing. This brand new release—collected from Young’s residency at the Cellar Door in Washington D.C. between Nov. 30 and Dec. 2, 1970—might be even better than that cherished relic ….
In the summer of 1970, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash joined Neil Young at his Hawaii ranch to record a follow-up to CSNY’s chart-topping album, Déjà Vu. Unfortunately, things didn’t proceed as planned. Despite the Aloha State’s hospitable environs, Stills and Young were at each other’s throats. The sessions rapidly deteriorated into squabbling — Buffalo Springfield déjà vu.
Washington, DC’s Cellar Door was the place to hang out in late 1970. Miles Davis briefly held court there in mid- December – recordings from his shows appearing on Live- Evil – shortly after Neil Young was stationed at the venue from 30 November to 2 December. Young welcomed advent in 1970 with six solo shows in the same year that had already seen him take Crazy Horse out on the road for landmark performances (captured on Live At The Fillmore East, the first release in his Archives Performance Series), and released high watermark After The Gold Rush.
This handsome solo acoustic set overlaps a few songs with earlier entries in Neil Young's official bootleg series. But there's no shortage of standouts, including a handful of aching After the Gold Rush tracks and rare, unplugged versions of his electric Crazy Horse signatures "Cinnamon Girl" (on piano here) and "Down by the River" (on acoustic guitar). Best of all may be the Buffalo Springfield songs "Expecting to Fly" and "Flying on the Ground Is Wrong," the latter with a lengthy intro that finds Young strumming piano strings, giggling and confiding, "This song is about dope." .
Taken from shows in 1970, it's hard to know what's more delightful about these recordings - hearing the surety of Young's songwriting and that distinctive uncertainty of his voice happen in a tiny room (the applause sounds as if it's generated by no more than seven sober if appreciative and attentive patrons) or hearing a 25-year-old Neil Young speak. There are beautiful moments, such as the postscript of a piano tremolo following After the Gold Rush that's greeted by a few soft giggles. The audience, warmed up now, laughs with him.
The shows Neil Young played at the Cellar Door in Washington DC were late in 1970, two months before the Massey Hall gig that has been issued twice in his Archive series. Seven songs appear in both sets; worse, only three of Cellar Door's 13 tracks haven't already been heard in a similar solo recording from the same brief period of Young's career. Add the inexplicable decision to excise from this release most of Young's banter with his audience – the characterful joy of the acoustic archive – and it's hard to see why anyone should buy it.
In late 1970, Neil Young was coming down from a bustling stretch of touring with the immensely popular Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and had just released his third solo album, After the Goldrush. That album, lodged between the jammy country rock of 1969's Crazy Horse-aided Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the hushed, hermetic folk of 1972's Harvest, found an ethereal and otherworldly middle ground for Young's rapidly developing songwriting voice. Live at the Cellar Door finds a solo Young just a few months after the release of After the Goldrush, playing a six-show stint at the tiny Washington D.C.
“This song is about dope.” [“Yeahhhhh,” an audience member interjects.] “It’s about what happens when you start getting high, and you find out that people you thought you knew, you don’t know anymore, because they don’t get high and you do.” That banter, dripping with irony and accompanied by shrieking scrapes of a piano’s strings, forebodingly introduces the finale of the latest Neil Young archival release, Live at the Cellar Door. “Flying on the Ground is Wrong”, one of Young’s earliest songs, is a typically 60s piece of pharmacological us vs. them, a bittersweet song about how the squares just don’t understand the new mind-expanding potential of drugs.
If you’ve read Neil Young’s recent half-memoir half-LiveJournal-in-printed-form Waging Heavy Peace then you’ll know he’s been one busy bee over the past few years. As well as writing said tome, he’s developed a series of electric cars (one of which short-circuited and burned his warehouse to a crisp); invented a super high-quality digital music format called Pono (meaning ‘righteous’ in Hawaiian); made some major advancements in the world of model railways; given up booze and weed; survived near-fatal health scares and released a host of music, both solo (Fork In The Road, Le Noise) and with his old chums Crazy Horse (Americana, Psychedelic Pill). Given how much he’s got on his plate, it’s a wonder he remembers to keep the cogs of his ambitious Archives project turning.
Considering Neil Young already released Live at Massey Hall 1971, another solo acoustic show that was recorded just a couple months after Live at the Cellar Door, it’d be easy to accuse Young of gilding the lily. But this is how Young’s Archive Series has gone. Instead of delving into the darkest, least explored corners—recordings with the Gators, for instance—he gives us something we’re very familiar with, his early 1970s acoustic work, sandwiched between After the Gold Rush, released in August of 1970, and Harvest, which came out early in 1972.
The scene is a tiny room in Washington, D.C. called the Cellar Door. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, artists like Tom Waits and John Denver played intimate shows here. Miles Davis’ The Cellar Door Sessions was recorded here. Armed with just a guitar and piano, Neil Young held court at the ….
There’s a small cult of late-period partiality in jazz: listeners who savor the poignancy of a great artist in decline. If this is your inclination, then you probably have deep feelings for Billie Holiday’s “Lady in Satin” and certain 1950s work by Lester Young. (Outside jazz, you’re ….