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Neil Young and Crazy Horse blow the roof off with inspired ‘Way Down in the Rust Bucket’

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Maybe Neil Young knows something the rest of us don’t. He seems to have amped up his already voluminous archive series of previously shelved studio albums and unreleased concerts like a man racing against time. One of the latest entries is a November 1990 tour warmup gig with Crazy Horse representing what many fans consider to be among the band’s best-ever nights onstage. “Way Down in the Rust Bucket” is two-and-a-half hours of the finest electric Neil Young available, and that’s saying something.

The 1990 studio LP “Ragged Glory” – due for an archival overhaul, expansion and reissue later this year – marked a true return to form for Young and his long-serving barn-rock collaborators in Crazy Horse. The album contained (arguably) his best batch of songs since 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps,” and it arrived in the middle of a new golden era of great Neil Young albums that signaled his return to Reprise Records after his 1980s wilderness years with Geffen. Remember when Geffen unsuccessfully sued him for delivering work “uncharacteristic of Neil Young?” It was sweet to watch Neil stick it to them by handing Reprise knockout LPs like “This Notes For You” (1988), “Freedom” (1989), “Ragged Glory” and its subsequent tour document “Weld.”

Even better than “Weld” is “Way Down in the Rust Bucket,” culled from three sets performed on November 13, 1990 at The Catalyst, an 800-seater in Santa Cruz, CA, that’s long served as a favored home base for Neil to warm up before a tour.

Eight songs from “Ragged Glory” made it to the “Rust Bucket” set-list. The versions here are treated with a bit more finesse than their studio counterparts as Young seems to apply an added sense of patience and purpose to his extended soloing before the audibly stoked crowd. Rarities like “Danger Bird,” “Bite the Bullet,” ‘Tonight’s the Night’s’ “Roll Another Number” are delivered with the reckless precision and distorted elegance of a band possessed. Two left-field inclusions from 1981’s “Re.ac.tor,” - the darkly surreal “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze,” and the absurdly hilarious lunkhead rocker “T-Bone” receive an appropriately raunchy treatment that should send fans back to explore that unfairly maligned gem of an LP. It wasn’t until hearing this version that I realized how much DNA “T-Bone” shares with Young’s paean to anti-commercial sponsorship, “This Note’s For You.”

Out of the barn for the first time in months, Neil and Crazy Horse played like it was their last night on Earth. Had it been released 30 years ago instead of “Weld,” “Rust Bucket” would no doubt be considered a high-water mark for live rock albums in general, let alone Young’s performance career.

An element of looseness is a central component of any great Young and Crazy Horse performance, and there’s a welcome casual air to this recording that is missing from “Weld.”

Young’s performances with Crazy Horse on the “Ragged Glory” trek in the winter of 1991 were uniformly excellent but they had a much different tone than this show. The rage and intensity heard throughout the four-month road-show reflected Young’s feelings about Operation Desert Storm which coincided with the start of the tour.

Young allegedly had a treadmill backstage at each tour stop, putting in somewhere between five and eight miles just before hitting the stage. He performed with a runner’s high – it made for an exciting road trip, albeit a deafening one. A February stop at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland left this fan’s ears ringing for a week. Young later confessed to Rolling Stone that he believes he suffered permanent hearing loss from enduring weeks of thunderous volume while mixing “Weld” in the studio that summer.

He retreated from the noise that fall when he began recording delicate acoustic songs for 1992’s “Harvest Moon.”

Two months before the tour began, inside the intimate Catalyst, we hear a patient and good-natured Neil Young playing his most fluently melodic electric guitar yet issued. Each song takes the listener on a sonic journey led by Neil’s voice, and his favorite Les Paul, “Old Black.”

If “Weld” is the sound of a pissed off, adrenalin-fueled Neil with Crazy Horse, “Rust Bucket” sounds like the musicians shared a joint in the parking lot before playing for friends and family.

Apart from the (at the time) new songs, they found room for classic slabs of rusted relics including “Like a Hurricane” heard here in a version that may not be as kinetic as the “Live Rust” take, but Young sounds more methodical here in his solos. Similarly, “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cortez the Killer” received note-perfect delivery, dolled up with added flourish.

“Cowgirl in the Sand” is the only song performed that night that doesn’t appear on the vinyl, CD, or digital versions of “Rust Bucket,” but it does show up on the DVD.

Young somehow squeezed a camera crew into the Catalyst’s confines to document the show for posterity. A brief power outage during “Cowgirl” temporarily paused the live recording but the missing section was flown in from a separate front-of-house recording made at the same time.

The DVD is included as part of the deluxe version of “Way Down in the Rust Bucket,” and is also available separately from Neil’s official online store. The first pressing of the DVD contains a different audio mix from the spacious wide-stereo mix we hear on vinyl, CD, and digital. Young addressed this issue on his website, taking ownership of the mistake, and promised to send every patron a new version containing the preferred mix as soon as possible.

Young has already followed “Rust Bucket” with “Young Shakespeare,” a January 1971 acoustic performance recorded at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. Further releases from his archive series have been announced for later this year.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 April 2021 05:50

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