Neil Young couldn't have known back in 1971 what an inspired move it would be to open his Massey Hall concert with an acoustic rendition of "On The Way Home," a Buffalo Springfield song that in its studio version is one of Young's poppiest. Even in the thick of the acid-rock era, Young was an anomaly, see-sawing wildly from delicacy to mayhem, but nearly always stripping his songs of the sonic frippery that gave the '60s its sound. On the Live At Massey Hall CD and its accompanying DVD, Young looks and performs like some scraggly-haired, long-limbed, angel-faced amateur who wandered in off the street with a sheaf of amazing songs and a voice like a trapped coyote.
Young has been sitting on these Massey Hall tapes for decades now, after briefly considering releasing them in lieu of Harvest back in 1972. But the real find here is the DVD, which makes a fine addition to the filmography of Young's movie-making alter ego "Bernard Shakey." The images are grainy and spookily underlit, and for songs where no live footage exists, Young adds lyrical shots of a bare stage, and film of him kicking around his ranch. It's an effective lo-fi aesthetic, matching Young's casual approach to the actual concert, which includes long introductions and a set list seemingly drawn from whim. Both the CD and the DVD peak with Young's performance of "A Man Needs A Maid," which unlike its bombastic Harvest version, sounds organic and ambitious, like a pastiche of loosely connected movie soundtracks. Young even throws in a verse of "Heart Of Gold" in the middle, which, like "A Man Needs A Maid," was then unknown by the audience. It's remarkable to watch him feel his way through songs that would become classics, still figuring out how they fit together.
Key features: The CD of course, plus bonus footage from a Johnny Cash TV special, old radio interviews, and a conversation about the long-awaited Archives project that would be more encouraging if hadn't been filmed 10 years ago.