Friday, November 14, 2008

Portraits of the Artists as Young Men

Neil Young - Sugar Mountain-Live at Canterbury House 1968
Recorded in 1968, as he was just embarking on his solo career after being in the highly successful Buffalo Springfield, this recording will literally bring tears to the eyes of Neil Young diehards. Consisting of equal parts Springfield songs and early solo material the program is punctuated by Neil’s comments, jokes and banter. The overall effect is wondrous. The listener is immediately struck by both how fully formed he is as a performer, yet how young and inexperienced he sounds at the same time. His ability to pull off challenging numbers like “Expecting To Fly,” “Broken Arrow” or a mind-blowing “Trip To Tulsa” sits comfortably next to the folksy simplicity of performances of straight-forward fare such as “Mr. Soul,” or “Sugar Mountain.” The version of “Sugar Mountain” is the one that was originally released as a single, and it is quintessential Neil. He delivers a song of seeming childlike simplicity, yet it has an almost anthemic resonance that grows with each listen. Of special interest are the songs from his first, eponymous release that haven’t seen much live treatment over the years. “If I Could Have Her Tonight,” “I’ve Been Waiting For You,” “The Old Laughing Lady,” the aforementioned “Trip To Tulsa” and “The Loner” all shine with the excitement of new tunes that will one day be classics. Neil is clearly playing to a small, adoring audience, but it is obvious that he is a world-class performer already, and is quite comfortable kibitzing with the crowd. His voice is lovely. At times he sounds like a thirteen-year old girl in the first blush of romance. And I mean that as a complement. Considering the worlds that this man has come over the ensuing 40 years since this was recorded, the overall vibe is exactly what we have come to expect from Neil Young. Even at this tender age he delivered poetic songs of substance in a singular, riveting fashion.

The Doors - Live At The Matrix 1967
This is one of the most often bootlegged sets of shows in the history of bootlegging. Throughout the years these shows have appeared in fair, bad and worse sound quality with incomplete song lists. Finally, the best of these landmark shows has appeared legitimately with HIGHLY upgraded sound and a stunning package with artwork by the great Stanley Mouse and liner notes by all three surviving Doors. At this period they had recorded their first album but not released it and had already started on a few songs from their second album. The audience is tiny, literally less than 30 people. The Doors were like any other two-year old band with limited exposure outside of their hometown; and that is the real charm of these recordings. Jim Morrison and company had not bought into any of the hype yet - in fact there was no hype. “Light My Fire” had not yet been released to radio, and it is obvious listening to the non-plussed audience reaction that there were no rock-star pretensions. What one is left with is a hard-working, highly original band with a great batch of songs, a poetic lead singer, and a future as bright as the sun. The band is tight in their playing, but extremely willing to embark on improvisational flights. Morrison also proves able to throw in extemporaneous bits of poetry to the middle of songs. “The End” and “When The Music’s Over” are particular fertile ground for his lyrical outbursts. What the future would hold for The Doors is now ancient history, but this release offers a glimpse of a great band with wings of wax - nowhere near melting point yet.

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