By David Werther.
Neil Young, Living with War (Special CD + DVD Combo Pak), Reprise 9362-43265-2.
Neil Young, Live at Masey Hall 1971, Reprise 9362-43328-2.
Living with War, Special Edition, consists of a CD, DVD, and a set of song lyrics. The CD contains the "raw mixes" of the songs that appeared on Young's original release of Living with War. Given his subject matter, the "raw" sound is fitting. Hard rock is an ideal medium for protest and Young makes the most of it.
The DVD contains videos of Young and his fellow musicians and singers rehearsing two live performances from the archives: "Long Walk Home" and "Mideast Vacation Revisited," videos for the songs as they sound on the original release of LWW, as well as two television interviews with Young. The rehearsal videos are fun to watch; we get enough studio banter and playing to have a sense of what went on behind the scenes but not so much that it becomes tedious. The two television interviews complement one another. The interview from the Colbert Report is a lot of fun, as Young is uncharacteristically relaxed. The segment ends with Young attempting to get Colbert to join him playing "Let's Impeach the President." The interview from Show Biz Tonight has a much more serious tone, with Young emphasizing how much he values living in a society where freedom of thought and discussion is permitted. And, Young's willingness to have the DVD include mixed reviews of his original release of LWW shows that he is interested in a two-way conversation.
The best videos are the ones accompaning the performances of songs from the original release of LWW. The stars of these videos are not rock stars. The leading role in "After the Garden" goes to the evironment itself, or what's left of it, with Al Gore as best supporting actor. The focus on "Living with War" is an aerial display known as "the missing man formation." Dick Cheney, looking unbelievably smug and condescending, gets major billing in "Restless Consumer," with its refrain, "Don't Need No More Lies." The video highpoint comes in "Let's Impeach the President" where George W. is shown reversing himself on such matters as weapons of mass destruction to the choral accompaniment of "flip flop." All of the videos are unified by a month-by-month account of the American death toll that runs beneath them; in the video for the final song, Young's arrangement of "America the Beautiful," an American flag is blowing in the breezes with a graveyard in the background.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview Bob Dylan had this to say about Neil Young: "Neil is very sincere, if nothing else. He's sincere and he's got a God-given talent, with that voice of his, and the melodic strain that runs through absolutely everything he does." The solo acoustic show, Live at Masey Hall 1971, illustrates both Young's sincerity and gift for melody. Young performed the show before recording one of his "biggest" albums, Harvest. I remember listening to bootlegs of this tour, getting a copy of Harvest as soon as it came out and then wondering "what happened?" Quite simply, Harvest pales in comparison to the Masey Hall concert, and Young as much as admits it. In the packaging for Live at Masey Hall 1971 Young says that his producer really wanted this concert to be the followup to After the Gold Rush and comments, "As I listen to this now I can see why." The concert introduces Young's fans to some songs that would find their way onto Harvest: "Old Man," "Needle and the Damage Done," "Heart of Gold," and "Man Needs a Maid"—although here the latter two are played as a medley—as well as acoustic versions of "Down By the River," "Cowgirl in the Sand," and "Ohio." However, the real standout, the apotheosis of Young's sincerity and gift for melody, is "Bad Fog of Lonliness," a song that Young had orginally written to perform on the Johnny Cash Show. That song alone is worth the price of admission.