Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Live at the Fillmore East
he first release in the “Neil Young Archives Performance Series” (mysteriously labeled “Disc 02” on its cover) documents a steamy love triangle between Young, the newly recruited Crazy Horse, and “Old Black” (Young’s squalling, shaky, one-note-at-a-time Gibson Les Paul). The triangle works like this: Crazy Horse love Neil, who has just pulled them into the spotlight and given them an extraordinary set of songs perfectly suited to their chugging, elementary rock. Young loves his new guitar and the discovery of an electric sound that suits him better than the folksiness of Buffalo Springfield or CSNY. Nobody knows who Old Black loves, but it sure seems right at home amidst the Horse’s primal, caveman rock ‘n roll.
Like Dylan before him, much was (and is) made of Young’s transition to an electric sound, and Crazy Horse could (and do) stir up an impressive storm, particularly on the large-canvas numbers. But just as good are the thoughtful, even (perish the thought) sensitive readings the Horse give the minor songs. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Winterlong” are limned in coarse harmonies, like a chorus of chain-gang grizzlies singing work songs. Young almost tenderly introduces the audience to Crazy Horse and the Horse to the audience before they stomp through Danny Whitten’s “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” with Young belting out harmonies in his reedy falsetto like the upper register of a country dance fiddle.
But it’s the twin epics “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” that justify this brief release (the sixteen minute “Cowgirl” is longer than the other four songs combined). “Down by the River” invests a murder with the weight of redemption; the lyrics give nothing away, but Old Black sings with a voice and phrasing entirely Young’s: wobbly, plain, sawn-off. On “Cowgirl,” Young sets the scene with a suggestive two-chord melody and vague, evocative lyrics about a woman in distress, then steps back and lets Old Black do the talking. The back cover of the album displays the Neil of the day: junkie-slender in patched jeans and a denim workshirt, bowed face obscured by long dark hair, standing tall and pouting at his fretboard. His solos are eloquent in a halting, thoughtful, momentary fashion, ideas felt for blindly and grasped slowly, returned to again and again, like an idiot-savant or a witness to a crime. Around Young’s wandering, railing soul, Crazy Horse make the woods grow thick and rocky, weathered branches knitting together densely enough to almost shut out the light.