Neil Young & Crazy Horse
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.
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