In the Old West there would be wakes for dead relatives. These were demure, Victorian affairs that would emphasize watching over the body. But in local townships away from the countryside, dead center in quickly developing townships, cowboys and gunslingers on some occasions would have their corpse presided over by an increasingly drunk crowd of people in saloons, breaking out into song and tawdry celebration of their tales and mythology. These were rare instances of jubilation in times of despondency, and one that ran against the structured, formal observance of social mores of the time. In this way, Neil Young’s inaugural performance at the Roxy Theatre in L.A. in September of 1973 is a similarly exuberant, whiskey-soaked, and macabre performance of a legendary album.
Tonight’s The Night, originally released in 1975, was (and remains) famous for immortalizing Neil’s disillusionment with popular rock and his attempts to grapple with the addiction of bandmates. Young experienced this firsthand through the overdoses of David Whitten in 1972, and with roadie Bruce Berry’s death just three months prior to the taping of this show.
This performance in particular is a true example of Neil Young at one of the many peaks in his long and storied career. It is a reflection of a man struggling to make sense of the losses, of both the political movements and personal friendships, in the only voice that he knew how. The fact that he has as much fun as he does is a testament to the fact that it would take four decades for anyone to understand the context as to why.
This live album captures all of the spirit and intensity, the raw and unpolished along with the tightly knit group of musicians, fresh off of the month-long recording prior to the taping of this show. The titular track is bookended, giving the audience a blistering rendition to sandwich in all of the tracks off the same album. The banter is typically droll and likely down to a fair amount of liquor consumed, and even includes a shout-out to David Geffen in the crowd, the owner of Asylum Records at the time and later Geffen Records (and even later on, Dreamworks Studios). The band is able to soar, sway, and swelter, all while holding their own with the woe that bleeds through the guitars and rhythm section, with special mention being necessary for Ben Keith. It is his pedal steel guitar that is able to rouse the mournful into something akin to solemnity.
Check out this live version of the song “Heart of Gold”.
As with any live performance there are wrinkles, such as in Neil’s flat delivery in one of the verses of “Mellow My Mind”. But this would be missing the point; part of the style and substance of Neil’s is his recognised tendency to deliver melodies off-kilter. What is more apparent is the performance in context: this is a snapshot of a band that was a well-oiled muscle car pumping out tune after tune, taking solace in the one thing that only ever mattered to Neil anyway: the music.
Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live Track Listing:
02. Tonight’s The Night
03. Roll Out The Barrel
04. Mellow My Mind
05. World On A String
06. Band Intro
07. Speakin’ Out
08. Candy Bar Rap
10. Perry Como Rap
11. New Mama
12. David Geffen Rap
13. Roll Another Number (For The Road)
14. Candy Bar 2 Rap
15. Tired Eyes
16. Tonight’s The Night, Pt. 2
17. Walk On
Run Time: 53 minutes
Release Date: April 21, 2018