Neil Young has selected a concert he played at New York’s Carnegie Hall on December 4th, 1970 as the inaugural release from his upcoming Official Bootleg series. It’s a solo acoustic gig that happened just three months after the release of After the Gold Rush that has never before been heard by fans.
Young played two shows at Carnegie Hall that week. “Listening to existing bootlegs, it seems that all the bootleggers got the second Carnegie Hall show,” Young writes on the Neil Young Archives. “There was one at 8:00 pm and one at midnight [about 27 hours later]. No one got that first one — the first time I walked onstage at Carnegie Hall, blowing my own 25-year-old mind.”
The gigs were the culmination of a breakthrough year for Young thanks to the huge success of After the Gold Rush and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Déjà Vu. They were the most prominent concerts of his solo career up until that point and he flew in his parents, Scott Young and Rassy Young, so they could witness them.
“We sat, I guess, like visitors from another world,” Scott Young wrote in his 1984 book Neil and Me. “But once the place was dark, we could all see this dark form approaching the front of the stage and then the spotlight came on him: tall and thin, blue jeans, checkered shirt, work boots, dark straight hair to his shoulders or beyond, two acoustic guitars on a rack beside a plain wooden chair, a concert piano to his let. Moving gingerly as if his back was bothering him. No music to play except the songs in his head, all his own.”
Days before the show, he warmed up with six shows at the Cellar Door in Washington, DC. Selections from the residency were released as on 2013’s Live at the Cellar Door. Just one month after Carnegie Hall, he played Toronto’s Massey Hall. That show was bootlegged for years until Young finally released it himself in 2007.
“This one — Carnegie Hall, December 4th, 1970, is very special to me,” Young writes. “Change happens fast. As I have gone through these early bootlegs, Carnegie Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion [2/1/70], Royce Hall [1/30/71] and others, they show a change, something you can hear — an evolution. My first time playing harmonica — Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, is heard as well as what the harmonica replaced — heard on earlier shows. That was interesting to me because I don’t remember exactly when I started playing harp until I heard that. At Carnegie Hall, I hear myself doing a new song, one about my ranch I had just moved to — ‘Old Man.’ Time flies.”
Young has yet to announce a release date for the Carnegie Hall show. It’s one of many archival projects in the works, including the second volume of his Neil Young Archives box set, a 1990 club show with Crazy Horse and a document of his 2003/04 Greendale tour.