Neil Young & Crazy Horse

By - Jan 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Blaine Schultz
It’s all there in black and white – Neil Young’s black Gibson Les Paul and Danny Whitten’s white Gretsch ( well maybe he played the orange one that night). This album is about guitars. While bootlegs of both early and late Fillmore shows have circulated for years, it is great that Neil decided to give this recording a legitimate release. After Young hijacked three members of the Rockets and renamed them Crazy Horse they quickly went into a studio and cut the album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That record’s visceral aesthetic was not going to get it confused with any of the Woodstock hippy hangover music clogging radio’s arteries back in 1969. Live at the Fillmore East is the first volume of Young’s long-awaited archive series.

While the Fillmore album does not include Nowhere’s “Cinnamon Girl” (the closest tune to a solo hit Young would have until “Heart of Gold” broke the bank in 72), it does add “Winterlong” and “Wondering.” The former would surface on the collection Decade and the latter would not see the light of day until Young’s rockabilly vacation with the Shocking Pinks in 1983 – regardless of how he introduces the tune here. Fillmore also adds Jack Nitzsche’s watery Wurlitzer electric piano to the lineup. At its core Crazy Horse was (and still is) a rhythm section, creating a huge warm hypnotizing pocket for Young’s guitar playing. Meanwhile, back at the Fillmore, the doomed guitarist Danny Whitten (equal parts Georgia hillbilly and California surfer) spurred Young’s playing to dogfight levels that rock & roll would not hear again until a group called Television inhabited the same Fillmore neighborhoods and sonic airspace a decade and a half later. In fact, if you listen close, Whitten’s singing and playing is nipping at Neil’s heels like a young pup – alternate bootleg mixes of officially released songs seem to bear this out. Seems if Whitten hadn’t checked out early because of an overdose he could have been a real contender. He would later be an inspiration for Young’s arguably greatest album Tonight’s The Night. Ironically on Fillmore Whitten sings the rave-up “C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” a tune about copping and paranoia. But for the real crackerjacks take a listen to the pair’s tremulous singing on the chorus of “Winterlong.” Now tell me, what could cause this terror that makes them sound like Robert Johnson turning the tables and finally chasing the hellhound on his trail? Peace and love with Nixon and Manson waiting down the hall.

Which brings us to the twin towers of dread and shred, “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” two rock & roll epics that sit real nice on the same shelf with Dylan getting rearranged by Hendrix. Could it have been something in the air – Miles Davis was also on the bill at the Fillmore – because Neil Young and Crazy Horse stretch rock & roll’s time/space equation into something that Davis and John Coltrane developed in jazz. That is, taking a simple two chord minor key vamp and exploring variations and possibilities that turn dumbass jamming (man) on its dead head. For well over ten minutes on each tune the rhythm section establishes a pocket and Young and Whitten feign and attack like a pair of fencers playing for keeps. Sure there is some skeletal lyrics here, gothic old west kinda stuff that sets the scene, but his is all about guitars. Sam Peckinpah guitars. Guitars that sound like they are strung with barb wire and you can almost see the blood splashed on the pickguard. Young’s distinct style would never get him confused with some speed demon parroting blues licks or scales. It’s been suggested a childhood bout with polio or his epilepsy might affect his playing, which is just as likely to shoot off shards and sparks as it is to be pleasantly melodic. Just when you think the tune is winding down Young gains a second (or third) wind and the playing heats up another notch of mania. And just as quickly, the show is over. Kinda like the 60s. VS

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