In a rare 1975 interview, Neil Young spoke at length to Rolling Stone‘s Cameron Crowe about the headspace informing his Tonight’s the Night LP. Feeling guitarist Danny Whitten was too fucked-up to play a session, Young had banished him from the studio. “That night the coroner called me from L.A. and told me he’d O.D.’ed,” Young told Crowe. “Fucking blew my mind. I loved Danny. I felt responsible.”
Recorded in September 1973, Roxy: Tonight’s the Night Live is Young opening a now-legendary L.A. nightclub, fresh off the LP sessions with one of his greatest bands, the so-called Santa Monica Flyers: Nils Lofgren on guitar and piano, Ben Keith on steel, plus the Crazy Horse rhythm section. The banter’s remarkably jocular, Young shouting out Fifties superstar stripper Candy Barr and cracking wise like a tipsy hippie Henny Youngman (“Welcome to Miami Beach! I’d like to thank my managers for introducing me. … Ten years in the business, folks. I feel like Perry Como!”) But the songs are dark as a moonless night, with corpses from a coke deal gone bad (“Tired Eyes”) and those from Young’s more immediate circle (“Tonight’s the Night”) figuratively piling up on stage. Vocals are frayed and spine-tingling: the tortured high notes at cross-purposes to the plea of “Mellow My Mind,” the wobbly harmonies of “Albuquerque,” the sky-high CSNY-isms of “New Mama.”
It’s the boozy sound of coping with charred regret, where even a playful throwaway like’ “Roll Another Number for the Road” slips in a requiem for the Sixties dream: “I’m not going back to Woodstock for a while/Though I long to hear that lonesome hippie smile/I’m a million miles away from that helicopter day,” he sings, wryly and wistfully, Hank Williams in bell bottoms. The set ends on a qualified up note with “Walk On,” from the also-yet-to-be-released-downer On the Beach, here sounding like a blue-sky Allman Brothers jam, Young looking ahead with wreckage receding in his rearview. “Some get stoned, some get strange/Sooner or later it all gets real,” he declares. It does, and it did. But dude survived to tell the tale.