By late 1992, many of the biggest names in rock were scrambling to book MTV Unplugged specials. Eric Clapton introduced himself to a whole new audience with his Unplugged special earlier that year and sold a shocking amount of records. Neil Young was an obvious next choice for the network. It was the height of the grunge movement, and many groups were citing him as a huge influence, particularly Pearl Jam. His new stripped-down LP Harvest Moon was also perfect for the format.
A show was booked at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater on December 12th, 1992. As is often the case with Young, things didn’t quite go according to plan. He’d been on the road all year playing solo acoustic shows, but for whatever reason, he had tremendous trouble at the taping. Numerous songs had false starts, and it was clear to everyone in the audience that Young wasn’t happy. He eventually simply walked out the door and onto the streets of Manhattan, with stunned crew members trailing behind. Though he returned for stunning renditions of “Last Trip to Tulsa” and “After the Goldrush,” he ultimately scrapped the entire show.
Two months later, Young booked another Unplugged taping at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. This time around he brought a band, which featured guitarists Nils Lofgren and Ben Keith, pianist Spooner Oldham, drummer Kenny Buttrey and bassist Tim Drummond. His half-sister, Astrid Young, wife Pegi Young and “Lotta Love” singer Nicolette Larson handled backup vocals.
The set list at this second Unplugged taping spanned Young’s entire career, from his Buffalo Springfield days (“Mr Soul”) to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (“Helpless”) through his brief New Wave period (“Transformer Man”) and including several tracks from Harvest Moon. Many of the songs were done more than once, and Young still didn’t seemed pleased with the show, but this time he allowed MTV to broadcast it.
The highlight of the show may have been “Like a Hurricane,” which Young played by himself on an organ. He nailed this one in a single take. It seems like an appropriate Flashback for today: if Sandy was technically a “post-tropical storm” by the time it hit the U.S. last night, it sure felt like a hurricane.