Live at the Fillmore East, the debut release from the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, is a surprisingly sparse six-track release culled from recordings made on March 6th and 7th, 1970 at New York’s famed Fillmore East Auditorium. Opening with a soaring rendition of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” there’s no question that Young and Crazy Horse are in their prime. Featuring the late Danny Whitten on guitar, these live versions feature a sharpness that cuts through each track and balances beautifully against Young’s performance.
Included are some classic gems which have gone largely overlooked by mainstream Young fans. A fantastic rendition of “Winterlong” is reason enough to pick up the album, while “Down By The River” offers Whitten’s extended solo virtuosity in two parts (the track itself is over 12 minutes long). Improvisation is often the bread and butter of any live release and, on this front, the album doesn’t disappoint. Also included are some early versions of songs (before “Wonderin’,” Young tells the audience, “This is a song from our new album—when we record it”) and an electrifying 15-minute version of “Cowgirl In The Sand” to close things.
But with two consecutive shows taped at the Fillmore East, one can’t help but think that this album could have easily been a two-disc release. At only 43 minutes, it feels more like a sampler than a complete show—especially with some obvious fading between tracks. As a result, the album fails to capture that true feel of an unedited live performance. Each track seems specifically chosen to present the best version of a particular song rather than a genuine record of Young’s time with the original Crazy Horse lineup. (Only at one moment does the album feel historically poignant: Midway through, Young addresses the audience by introducing Crazy Horse and announces their upcoming debut record.)
With nearly 40 years since these Fillmore appearances were originally performed and recorded, it’s time Young stopped worrying about putting his best foot forward for every live release and simply embraced the true historical record. If his Archives Series seeks to succeed like Dylan’s Bootleg Series or The Doors’ Bright Midnight label, the first step in the right direction would be releasing complete performances. Despite its shortcomings as an unedited performance, Live at the Fillmore East does provide a remarkably tight performance from a short-lived band and an album which, despite its sparseness, presents a classic rock group at the height of their abilities.