Live at Massey Hall, 1971
his is an odd one for obvious reasons; sounding sated and halcyon in the midst of a year and zeitgeist so top heavy it must have felt like a mailbag full of clothes irons coming down flat on the public’s face. Mr. Mojo Risin’, bloated with excess and self-importance, bought it in Paris; Manson was sentenced to death, only to be spared with life imprisonment a year later; Vietnam continued its hellbent path to clusterfuck combustion. Young’s audience, however, is gleefully narcotic and indifferent, stoically attentive and nearly supplicatory. In stride, Young is talkative and avuncular, walking comfortably through “new songs” in seamless fashion, his guitar clipping over unfettered tones and supple bent notes, his voice startling and whining, soaring into a ululating falsetto and often shaking with silent rage.
Following Déjà Vu, After the Gold Rush, and clipping the heels of Harvest, Massey Hall finds Young in a remarkably creative period, self-assured and captivating. Despite a rather daunting selection of “unofficial” recordings from this era, Massey Hall is superlative, offering what is perhaps the greatest renditions of several favorites, “Old Man,” “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Ohio,” and “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Young’s automatic and intricate guitar runs like a river, its white riffles sparkling in big sky sunshine. His voice trembles and howls, strong strumming banging over the backs of words that are at once filled with spite and emptied of stubborn introspection. When the applause comes, it pounds out of ground like thick coveys of quail scared into the sky.
“Ohio” is as evocative as it ever was. Its acoustic a cutting and twirling war dance; its lyrics a scolding finger to the silent mass that remains taciturn and impotent in the face of so much injustice. “Should have been done long ago” hangs in the air, all charred flesh stench, acrid smoke, heedless heads sand buried and sightless.
Everything is spent on “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” as if Young valiantly attempts to answer what that abstract “it” might be for each and every living breathing being that made it to Massey Hall for the show. He gives these lyrics his most impassioned reading of the evening, wholly believable, convincingly convinced in the stupid power of song. Castles burning, red lights flashing, sirens moaning, the dead heaped in confusing piles on roadsides in every town of every nation; these are clichéd and prophetic phrases, strung together out of necessity and relayed by nearly every bright-eyed dumbfuck new to ennui and armed with a pawnshop acoustic. No matter. Young reclaims the piece by singing it as it probably should have been sung from the beginning, as if the “solution” was realizing that there never was one to begin with, deftly making Massey Hall as ageless, remarkable, and as relevant as it could be.