Neil Young just wrapped up a stunning series of solo shows with a two-night stand at Boston’s Wang Theater. He played songs from his entire career, but mostly stuck to music from his earliest days in Buffalo Springfield through the late 1970s – including extreme rarities like “Broken Arrow” and “Homefires.” Each night sold out even though they received virtually no promotion outside of his website, where he allowed fans to purchase all the best tickets. “This leg of our Theater Tour is complete,” he wrote on his site after the final night, “but there will be more dates.”
The format of the shows was largely unchanged from his 1971 solo gigs when he was promoting After The Gold Rush and debuting new songs. Some of those shows were professionally recorded – most famously January 19th, 1971 at Massey Hall – but the only one to be filmed professionally recorded was a BBC TV special from February 23rd, 1971. He’d played in London the previous year with CSNY, but was his very first time playing anywhere in Europe as a solo artist.
Young was a full year away from releasing Harvest at the time of the BBC taping, but he was already deep into the songwriting process and was ready to play five tunes from the in-progress album. He even began with the Harvest leadoff track “Out on the Weekend,” which he’d never played anywhere. As you can see in this video, the song is about 90-percent complete even though, unlike the finished version, he opens up with the chorus. He also either forgot the lines “Now I’m running down the road/Trying to stay up” in the second verse or he simply hadn’t written them yet – either way, he just hummed the harmony in that moment.
He played “Out on the Weekend” four days later at the Royal Festival Hall in London, but then was largely off the road for the next year as he finished up Harvest, worked on his movie Journey Through the Past and got surgery for a painful back condition. The album would become his biggest one to date and land a single, “Heart of Gold,” at the top of the charts. Most critics loved the disc, though not so much here at Rolling Stone.
“He’s all but abdicated his position as an authoritative rock-and-roller for the stereotypical laid-back country-comforted troubadour role, seldom playing electric guitar at all any more, and then with none of the spellbinding economy and spine-tingling emotiveness that characterized his playing with Crazy Horse,” wrote critic John Mendelsohn in a long, scathing review. “Indeed, his only extended solo on the album, in ‘Words,’ is fumbling and clumsy, even embarrassing.”
Young hopefully took comfort from that fact that Mendelsohn also ripped apart the first two Led Zeppelin albums, two other works that sold by the millions and have aged incredibly well. And while Led Zeppelin are long gone, Young is still out there and “Out on the Weekend” sounded just as beautiful in Boston last week as it did in London 47 years earlier.