Published Dec 10, 2013As with any "archival" release — Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series, for instance, or the last several hundred Grateful Dead offerings — there are really two distinct ways of approaching Neil Young's Live at the Cellar Door, a collection of 13 tracks culled from a six-night stand at the Washington D.C. nightclub in late 1970.
If you're a serious fan, then this immaculately recorded and compellingly intimate portrait of Neil Young at his first creative peak is simply essential. Go buy it, listen to it, make mental comparisons between this show and the fabled Massey Hall concert he'd play six weeks later, and revel in a set of glorious performances by a peerless artist.
If you're more of a casual fan, the question is reduced to something more practical: "Why should I buy this, when I already have that?" Which, fair enough. But here's why: Live at the Cellar Door caught the 25-year-old in a 200-person room in front of a silent, enraptured crowd. This is, then, the closest you will ever get to After the Goldrush-era Neil Young playing in your living room. Imagine that.
Though some may complain that this release is too similar in performance and set list to the aforementioned Massey Hall Archive release — Why go back to this when there remain so many interesting eras left to explore? And can we have the 1974 Bottom Line show, please? — they would be mistaken to regard this is as a mere cousin to that concert. The mood is very different here, for one thing, and the energy much brighter; the Cellar Door was more of a coffee house than a concert hall, after all. But, more than that, the songs just sounded great, and were played with such precision, at these shows.
Though Young pulls liberally from the recently-released Goldrush, he also reaches back to his Buffalo Springfield days ("Flying On The Ground Is Wrong," "Expecting To Fly," "I Am A Child"), offers interesting acoustic revamps of his Crazy Horse stuff ("Cinnamon Girl" on piano, "Down By The River" as a folk song) and introduces some brand new material. Remember, these crowds were hearing such soon-to-be-timeless songs like "Old Man," "See the Sky About To Rain" and "Bad Fog of Loneliness" for the first time. What a thrill to be able to put ourselves into their shoes. (Reprise)