ROIO of the Week [Recordings of Indeterminate Origin]

Neil Young
Last Album [Zeus/2CD]

It's not for nothing that Neil Young has so far refused to release on CD Journey Through The Past ('72), Time Fades Away ('73) and On The Beach ('74), all made within months of each other and sharing the same source of guilt, self-doubt and regret. That's a lot of pain to pour out onto three albums over three years after hitting the ceiling with Harvest and the million selling single, Heart Of Gold, in 1972.

Each of those albums drew long, deep reviews from the leading rock magazines of the time. Everybody wanted to know why Neil Young was bent on alienating his fans.

Those were chaotic days. One day Young was showing off his new hi-fi to Graham Nash while sitting in a small row boat floating in the middle of the lake next to his home. With the wave of his arms, music boomed across the lake from two huge speakers on either side of the lake. By late '72, while rehearsing for his 1973 solo tour, Young dismissed his guitarist Danny Whitten with a plane ticket and a $50 note. The next night Whitten was dead from $50 worth of raw heroin.

But the show had to go on. Young was booked into large 20,000-seater venues for a 65-date, year-long tour. Journey Through The Past was recently released to mixed reviews. Anticipation was high to see the star of Harvest and Heart Of Gold.

While the later period of this tour has been covered in bootlegs like Sunset Strip and Roxy Night, there has been no complete show until now from the first three months of the tour, when the gravity of Whitten's death was still fresh in mind. Last Album is a two-CD set that offers the complete Civic Auditorium show in Bakersfield on March 11, 1973.

It starkly captures Young's mood at the time. Nostalgic and pained. He opens with the innocence of Sugar Mountain and Tell Me Why and a new song, Sweet Joni, about Joni Mitchell, capturing the folk flavour of Buffalo Springfield. Sweet Joni remains unreleased.

The popular Old Man and Heart Of Gold receive loud cheers. The new songs Look Out Joe, about a Vietnam veteran returning home, and Don't Be Denied, his strongest autobiographical song about finding himself, pushes the show into the lonely places of Time Fades Away, New Mama and Last Dance, all unfamiliar new songs you wouldn't play on your first solo tour in large halls.

These early shows were reportedly erratic. Drugs, booze and money had opened a gulf between Young and his band. While The Straygators had Tim Drummond, Kenny Buttrey, Jack Nitzsche and the sad/tragic pedal steel of Ben Keith, they seldom matched the power they had in the studio. On the longer numbers like Cinnamon Girl, Young plays one way while the band strays on another path.

And without Whitten to offer backup and vocal support, Young sounds out of tune at times and hoarse. By the time the tour reached Bakersfield, Crosby and Nash were invited by a sullen Young to offer support and they come on for six songs here including Alabama, Southern Man, Cinnamon Girl and Are You Ready For The Country, all of them angry and in no need of the soothing harmonies of Crosby and Nash. This was rock star excess in self-destruct mode. It is this strain that lends the bootleg its title, Last Album.

When Young was asked in 1975 what he was up to with this tour, he said he felt something was dying when he'd achieved his hit record. "I realised I had a long way to go and this wasn't going to be the most satisfying thing, just sitting around basking in the glory of having a hit record. It's really a very shallow experience. It's actually a very empty experience. It's nothing concrete except ego-gratification, which is an extremely unnerving kind of feeling."

He would spend two years searching for inner satisfaction to balance the material wealth he was earning. One day when Young feels like releasing those three albums, don't even hesitate. Buy them.

Last Album is a document of painful honesty that will likely never be repeated.

There are 11 songs on Disc Two which are taken from other shows in New York and Florida in January and February. They are the seldom performed Dance Dance Dance, LA, Borrowed Tune and Yonder Stands The Sinner (wrongly titled Lonely Weekend). These are all mono audience recordings with a good live ambience. Sound is very good. - Michael Cheah

Note: Tonight's The Night was recorded right after the '73 tour in early '74. Many of the songs from that album were previewed on this tour. The album was released in mid-1975. It is the only album from this dark period that is on CD.

2004 NOTE: The above review was written before the reissue of On The Beach in 2003.

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