Saturday, October 15, 2011

Live on Sugar Mountain - Neil Young

Live on Sugar Mountain
Neil Young 
Trademark of Quality  TMQ 71022 

I found this in Wisconsin last year.  I was in a combination cheese shop/antique store (which is not as weird as it sounds if you've ever been to Wisconsin) and while my wife was sampling the local fromage, I poked around in the antique store.  I found a bin of records.  I rarely find good records in antique stores, they are usually either overpriced or poor quality.  This bin had a lot of classic rock, but it was not in collectible condition for the most part and I already had much of the desirable stuff in there.  Just as I was about to give up I noticed this record nestled among some Neil Young albums.  As you can see it is just a generic blank sleeve which usually means a bootleg.  Old timers out there probably can recall that a lot of the lesser quality bootleg albums came in generic sleeves with mimeographed sheets identifying the record slipped inside the shrinkwrap.  Once the shrinkwrap is gone, often the mimeograph sheet gets lost.  The inner label of the record was blank but someone had written "Sugar Mountain" on it.  I figured it must be a Neil Young concert bootleg.  I don't really collect bootlegs especially not vinyl ones and even more so vinyl ones missing their artwork but it was only a buck so I picked it up.  It was a good decision.  It turned out to be Young's February 1, 1971 concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.  On it he previews a bunch of songs that had yet to be recorded on an album.  The concert has been bootlegged in various guises through the years but the original pressing was on Trademark of Quality but I don't think this is one, because all the copies I've seen of those have actual labels on the vinyl.  This has the Trademark of Quality matrix number stamped on the vinyl but I think it is a later generation issue, perhaps a bootleg of the bootleg.  It is a popular bootleg, I imagine at some point Young might want to put it out himself if he hasn't already.  I haven't been keeping up with the abundance of archival recordings he has been releasing.  It is not a professional recording though, it is a lo-fi audience recording.  Nonetheless, the sound is decent, no distortion and not too much audience noise aside from the occasional cough which amazes me since every time I go to a show there is always some jackass nearby yapping all the way through it.  It is a solo acoustic show with just Young and his guitar and occasionally piano.  It opens with "On the Way Home" from the Buffalo Springfield and "Tell Me Why" from "After the Goldrush."  Then he starts with new songs.  There is a moving version of "Old Man" (from "Harvest") and then he goes to the piano to introduce "Journey Through The Past" which would eventually be recorded for "Time Fades Away."  "Sugar Mountain" gets a lengthy introduction with Young exhorting the crowd to sing along.  Young is quite talkative at the show, perhaps because it was the last show on his tour.  In the middle of the song he stops and tells the crowd that he originally wrote 126 verses for the song and had to narrow them down to four and one of them is the worst thing he ever wrote (it is the "Now you're underneath the stairs" verse in case you are wondering) and if he can deal with the embarrassment of singing it they ought to be able to sing along with him and finally the crowd does join in a little.  Next up is "Don't Let It Bring You Down" and the side ends with Young returning to the piano for "Love In Mind" which also wouldn't appear on legitimate vinyl until "Time Fades Away."  Side two begins with "Cowgirl In the Sand" and then he plays "Heart of Gold."  It is back to the piano for "A Man Needs a Maid" which Young explains came to him when he was bedridden.  There is a slightly altered line when Young substitutes "A man feels afraid" for "A man needs a maid" in one of the choruses which I think improves the song.  This performance seems a bit naked without the strings on the recorded version (on "Harvest") but I find it more moving.  There is a lengthy introduction for "Needle and The Damage Done" where Young puts down bootlegs (oh the irony) in particular the CSN&Y "Wooden Nickel" which he calls a "capitalist ripoff."  There are also some comments about the lost accomplishments of people who succumb to heroin addiction.  Next up is "Ohio" and then back to the piano for "See the Sky About To Rain" which wouldn't get released until 1974 on "On The Beach."  The Buffalo Springfield song "I Am a Child" is next and it is one of the loveliest versions I've heard.  The album ends with a rousing performance of the unrecorded song "Dance, Dance, Dance" which features the audience loudly clapping along.  I really enjoy this record but I don't think I'd pay the inflated price it normally costs and if I did I'd probably opt for a CD version since it would probably have better sound quality.  Bootleg vinyl is always a crap shoot, the pressings are usually inferior to commercial ones, this one is okay but the mastering is so poor that you have to crank up the volume to hear it which means the surface noise is amplified as well.  Still I'm very happy to have it and I've been playing it quite a bit.  It is a great concert with a lot of warmth and atmosphere coming through on the recording.  Recommended for people who think "Harvest" is over-produced.

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