Neil Young live albums are like buses. He doesn’t release one for a while, then puts out a few over a short period of time. One of the recent albums that stand out is ‘Citizen Kane Jr. Blues 1974 (Live At the Bottom Line)’. This is partly down to the set list: ‘Long May You Run’, ‘Greensleeves’, ‘Ambulance Blues’, ‘Helpless’, ‘On The Beach’ and ‘Motion Pictures’ all feature giving the album a slightly sombre feel, compared to ‘Young Shakespeare’ and ‘Royce Hall 1971’ which feel almost jubilant by comparison. Also the audience are really into the set – “Play something country!” – and when he gives them a choice of songs they yell: “Play both!”
Throughout the gig Neil Young sounds about a confident as he could be. He was riding the highest wave of his popularity with ‘Harvest’ being released two years before. The lack of ‘Harvest’ tracks is interesting, instead opting to play new songs from ‘On The Beach’ and the unreleased ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘Zuma’ and ‘Long May You Run’ is remarkable. The contempt Young has for his fans by not playing the ‘hits’ and something new should be commended. It’s almost like once he’s released something he’s on to the next album and wants to share these songs instead of the ones that made him a household name. This is why I get a kick out ‘Citizen Kane Jr. Blues 1974 (Live At The Bottom Line)’.
As usual around this time, Neil Young’s links are insightful and funny. Before ‘Long May You Run’ he says “this a song about my car”. “I bought a bus today. Can’t stand those airplanes,” he says. “Sell tickets!” an audience member shouts. “It’s a big bus,” he replies. When the chorus kicks in the audience gets the joke and laughs. There are two reasons for this laugh. One, it’s a pretty funny joke. Writing such a tender song about a car is funny. The Beach Boys verse gets a laugh and mini-round of applause. Secondly he wouldn’t release ‘Long May You Run’ for another two years, until the 1976 album with Stephen Stills. This is the first time the audience have probably heard this song. And this is the wonder of the album. You are almost listening for the audience’s reactions more than the songs themselves.
When listening to ‘Citizen Kane Jr. Blues 1974 (Live At The Bottom Line)’ you realise that it doesn’t sound like Neil Young’s recent live album. It has more of the feel of a bootleg as the sound quality is fuzzy. At one point you can hear the squeaky door to the venue open. There are coughs in the background and if you have the album loud enough you can hear the audience members talking. It works really well when you consider that The Bottom Line is a 400 capacity venue. The back row is probably a few feet away from Young and his microphone. All this gives the album a feel that other live albums don’t really have. At first the drop in sound quality felt like a problem, but on repeat listens it’s the album’s strongest point. You feel like you are in the audience. Trying not to be that person who moves their chair during an acoustic gigs despite a leg cramp.
The lack of pristine sound quality also gives the songs something they might have otherwise lost. They, and Neil Young himself, sound more vulnerable. I’ve never heard ‘Ambulance Blues’ sound so urgent. Which, considering some of the other songs, is very impressive.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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