Neil Comes Home to Adoring 1971 Canadian Crowd

There’s a bit of fumbling as Young adjusts the mike. The intense 25 year old begins an unadorned cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic “On the Way Home” and the intimate treat that is Massey Hall 1971 unfolds. The vocal and guitar miking are spectacularly intimate and natural sounding, yet there’s just the right amount of hall sound reflection and P.A. reinforcement to let you know you’re listening to a live performance. The credits say David Briggs mixed live in the hall and that makes the production all the more remarkable.

Young’s nerves don’t appear in his fingers playing or in his voice singing, but his in-between song patter produces a few uncomfortable moments for him and for a photographer.

Young introduces the then new “Old Man” explaining that he’s just moved to a ranch that came with a foreman, about whom the song was written. “Yea, I live on a ranch now… lucky me,” he apologizes oddly for his success to the audience.

Earlier he complains to a photographer about being distracted by the shutter clicking, asking him to only shoot during applause—a somewhat restricting admonition for a professional (I assume it wasn’t some asshole in the audience) trying to get some good images, but certainly within the right of the artist to insist. However, Young doesn’t just make the request, he digs in until he makes the photographer feel really small and the audience his enemy. I would imagine hearing it today, it’s Young who feels small, but I could be wrong!

Young’s repertoire at this point so early in his career is remarkably varied and contains many tunes that would become signatures. He also covers “Tell Me Why,” “Journey Through the Past,” “Helpless,” (big applause on “North Ontario”), “A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold Suite” (then new), “Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Don’t Let it Bring You Down,” “There’s a World,” “The Needle and the Damage Done,” “Ohio,” “See the Sky About to Rain,” “Down By the River” and “I am A Child” and a few others, delivering them intimately, heartfelt and with remarkable maturity. Young’s piano playing is particularly effective, while his acoustic guitar work is deliberate and precise.

With the songs mostly fresh and new, the performances exude vitality and intense commitment. You won’t hear a more intense “Ohio” or particularly “The Needle and the Damage Done.”

Look, if your system is up to the task, this double LP set will take you back in time and space to the evening’s concert and put you near the front of the stage. The image of Young’s voice and both the guitar and piano are superbly tactile, transparent and three-dimensional. The balance between direct and reflected sound is perfect

If you don’t sit transfixed through all four perfectly pressed, absolutely quiet sides, you’re clearly not a Young fan. If you’re like me though, you’ll find this set transportive to a time when audiences sat with rapt attention listening to soft spoken, sensitive artists who held the stage as few manage to do today, with just an acoustic guitar or a piano or in this case both. When Young leaves the stage after “See the Sky About to Rain” the audience goes berserk. Young returns for “Down by the River,” and “Dance Dance Dance,” finishing up with “I Am A Child.”

Classic’s deluxe packaging, the 200gram Quiex SV-P flat profile pressing and Chris Bellman’s astonishingly transparent cut of a magnificent piece of engineering and mixing by Young’s longtime producing and engineering cohort David Briggs adds up to a musical and sonic treat Young fans would be foolish to pass up. Surely this won’t be in-print forever, so get it while you can! Live recordings don’t get much better than this.

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forshac's picture

This widely circulated (back in the day, at least) bootleg lp from 2/1/71 contains superior takes of virtually every song on "Massey Hall", sensitively sequenced (esp for a bootleg). If only Neil would release this one (a repro of the bootleg would be pretty hysterical).....

JohnEcc's picture

When you are young you often do not appreciate what you are witnessing. The magical night that was this concert took place in one of the most amazing acoustic venues of its era. I was expecting a hard rocking version with Neil's back up band. Instead we were treated to this acoustic set. Listening to this record today makes me appreciate an event which at the time I was not mature enough to do so. This recording perfectly captured both the concert and the audience.

akubacki's picture

The cost of a copy of "Massey Hall" has more that doubled since this recommendation.
Last Discogs price was $278.00 for a near mint copy.