Neil Young – Live At The Cellar Door

Reprise Records

Reprise Records

If nothing else, Neil Young’s latest archival release, Live At The Cellar Door, serves to remind us that the Neil we know now is the Neil that existed then: capable of doling out tunes that easily settle into your DNA and become part of your being; a near mono-syllabic speaker at times – who can tell a good story when moved to; and an artist who doesn’t honor the art as much as he does/did honor the moment. (That last observation is best represented on Cellar Door by “Cinnamon Girl”, offered here as a solo piano-and-vocal piece – on one hand, a far cry from the Crazy Horsed version on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, but on the other hand, chock full of its own kind of power and emotion.)

Recorded at Washington, D.C.’s Cellar Door during a six-show run in late November/early December, 1970, the 13-track set finds Young on his own after CSNY dissolved (for the first time of … how many?) and having just released After The Goldrush. If the 25-year-old Young was feeling any sort of pressure at that point, it’s certainly not obvious in his performance … and even when the going gets weird (we’ll get to that), he’s cool.

neil-youngHere we have some classic examples of Young’s acoustic guitar picky/strummy technique: listen to the between-verses rhythm chug during “Down By The River”; the stately chordal work of “Old Man”; the happy dirt road bounce of “Tell Me Why”; and the same dirt road taken for “I Am A Child”, only flavored with an occasional minor-chorded pothole. We have some classic Neil piano (“After The Gold Rush”; the complex and beautifully jarring “Expecting To Fly”) and some unexpected piano as well (the aforementioned “Cinnamon Girl”). We get to hear the first live performances of “Old Man” and “Bad Fog Of Loneliness” along the way.

And then comes the ring-tailed crown jewel of Live At The Cellar Door, “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”.

“Thank you,” says Young softly as the crowd applauds the conclusion of “Down By The River”. It’s obvious he’s moved over to the piano again as he ripples the keys; then he starts to mess with the innards of the piano – emitting a series of unearthly noises. Young utters a “Hmmph” of satisfaction to himself, followed by a short, evil laugh, which delights the audience.

There’s a moment of silence and then we hear the quiet, gentle Neil again: “Well …” He seems to be gathering himself up as he meanders for a bit, shyly admitting to having only played piano “seriously … for almost a year.” He jokes (we think) that he’d had it put in his contract that “I would only play on a nine foot Steinway grand piano … just for a little eccentricity.” The audience loves it.

“This next song is … a very old song,” says Young, before making some more ominous noises with the piano strings. He laughs the evil little laugh again; the crowd titters (a little nervously, perhaps?); and Neil pauses to tell them: “You’d laugh, too, you know … if this is what you did for a living.”

Click right here to read the conclusion of my review of Live At The Cellar Door on

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