Live at the Cellar Door is the latest release in the Neil Young Archive Series, a series of releases which similarly to the highly successful Bob Dylan Bootleg Series features a mixture of already released, as well as unreleased remastered studio and live recordings. This latest offering is a live recording containing performances from the six concerts Young performed in 1970 at Washington DCs. Cellar Door.
On here Young treats the smallish audience to some acoustic performances of tracks off his then just released album “After the Gold Rush”, mixed in with some old Crazy Horse and Buffalo Springfield favourites, as well as some earlier renditions of songs which he had yet released namely “Old Man” and “See the Sky About to Rain”. The performances on this album feature just Young by himself playing acoustic guitar and occasionally piano, giving the audience present an unplugged minimalist interpretation of his country and folk rock compositions. This in itself works well as his early-70s output was mainly made up of acoustic folk tracks meant for smaller live settings like the Cellar Door club. It is also very interesting to hear laidback acoustic versions of songs such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Down by the River” of which the original recordings done with Crazy Horse were exercises in heavily distorted guitar madness.
Live at the Cellar Door all and all has much the same feel as the 2007 released “Live at Massey Hall 1971”, just not as good. “Massey Hall” had an intimacy and a performer-audience connection which I think is lacking a bit on this album. This seems to have something to do with the production on “Cellar Door”, with the songs themselves sounding as if Young could have been sitting in a studio booth playing to himself, with some overdubbed audience applause thrown in for good measure to make it appear like it’s live. That’s not to say that all of the tracks on here are bad performances, or are lacking in quality. There are gorgeous versions of the Buffalo Springfield song “I Am A Child” and “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” from “After the Gold Rush” among other gems dotted across the album, it’s just that if you liked “Live at Massey Hall” which was a brilliant live album recorded around the same time, you won’t really be missing out if you don’t hear this one. Live at Cellar Door is probably best left for Neil Young fanatics and album collectors, or those into historical and archival recordings.