Neil Young – Dreamin’ Man Live ’92

January 01, 1970

(Reprise)

 

www.warnerbrosrecords.com

 

It’s fascinating how to this day the myth persists that Neil
Young’s Harvest Moon, released in
November of 1992, was a stripped-down acoustic record that represented a musical
about-face for the songwriter. More than one reviewer has cast Harvest Moon as an artistic reversion to
his folk roots that, coming on the heels of his 1991 all-guns-blazing Ragged Glory album with Crazy Horse (and
accompanying tour that yielded the equally fiery Arc/Weld live set), directly refuted Young’s so-called “godfather
of grunge” status that those same reviewers had begun touting around the turn
of the decade.

 

Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course. Harvest Moon, though distinctly lacking
in feedback-laden skronk jams, was a lushly-produced affair as expansive in its
own way as the Horse’s cosmic rawk.
Plus, if you look at Young’s entire career trajectory, it clearly didn’t
represent a detour or backtracking, but rather yet another example of Young’s
restless muse finding expression; just to cite two proximate examples, a year
prior to Ragged Glory brought the
eclectic, all-over-the-map stylings of Freedom,
while in 1994 he released the dark, brooding Sleeps With Angels.

 

Still, journalists over the years have continued putting
forth inaccurate, at times inane, notions about Harvest Moon (one held that the record was a stylistic and aesthetic
successor to 1972’s Harvest, but a
cursory listen to both will quickly dispel that idea, too, titular similarities notwithstanding). With the release of Dreamin’ Man Live ’92 the
revisionism-on-repeat has already begun – check, for example, a recent Pitchfork review for DML92 that essentially parrots the
above-cited common wisdom about Harvest
Moon
without bothering, apparently, to compare the actual music on the two
albums.

 

Dreamin’ Man helps
put part of the myth to rest, however, due to its stripped-down, acoustic format. The latest installment in the
ongoing, non-chronological Neil Young Archives Performance Series, the ten-song album offers live, unadorned
versions of the same ten songs that appeared on HM, though not in the
same sequence. By way of background: Beginning in early 1992 Young had embarked
upon a solo tour of the U.S., showcasing tunes from the as-yet-unreleased album
along with back catalog material, typically putting in two- and three-night
residencies at a single, relatively intimate, venue – in the case of NYC’s
Beacon Theatre, he did a marathon six-night run. Later, in the summer and fall,
he did selected solo shows in front of larger crowds, working an even more
eclectic mix of material into the setlists. In December, with HM now in
stores, Young also taped a performance for MTV’s Unplugged series, but
after listening to the recording he deemed it unsatisfactory and cancelled the
broadcast; he subsequently re-staged the taping the following February, but
this time he brought along a band that included some of the same musicians
who’d appeared on HM.

 

For a good portion
of Young’s fanbase, the acoustic Harvest Moon tour remains the stuff of
legend precisely because he was serving up a wealth of new, previously unheard songs
alongside striking reinventions of familiar cuts. It’s no coincidence that a
number of the shows got bootlegged on CD, for not only was the era of digital
bootlegs coming into its own around this time thanks to falling prices on
recording gear and the rise of cheap duplication facilities, the venues
themselves, chosen for the most part to enhance the solo format, offered superb
acoustics for the enterprising DAT deck-wielding bootlegger. (Among the choice
discs that surfaced: Live Under Harvest Moon, from one of the Beacon
shows; Like a Musical Ride, recorded at Philly’s Tower Theatre; and the
two-CD Homefires, which chronicled most of two nights at Boston’s Beacon Theatre,
and an enduring favorite among Young collectors.)

 

DML92, then,
presents somewhat belatedly (but now, officially) what you might have heard
during the touring lead-up to Harvest Moon, minus the back catalog
tunes. And the differences between these and the studio versions of HM songs
are indeed striking. That’s evident right from the get-go- with opening cut
“Dreamin’ Man”: on the 1992 album, Young was accompanied by bass, drums, pedal
steel and the warm backing vocal murmurs of the late Nicolette Larson and
Young’s sister Astrid Young, and the vibe was distinctly upbeat and countryish,
whereas the live take is subtly but decisively slower, almost Brit-folkish,
with the listener’s attention drawn to Young’s intricate fretboard flourishes.
“Such A Woman,” performed here on piano with a middle harmonica section, has a
lonesome, ethereal quality, and although its studio counterpart shared some of
that, the HM “Such A Woman” was fleshed out in the manner of a low key
wall-of-sound production complete with echo effects, strings and
girl-group-styled harmonies.

 

Some reviewers have
suggested a redundancy between this live album’s “Natural Beauty” and Harvest
Moon
‘s, which was also recorded live, at Portland’s Civic Auditorium early in the
tour. The difference in texture and vibe couldn’t be greater, however; whereas
the former is Young as his most solo intimate and confessional, the latter was
subjected to studio overdubs – vibes, bass, additional guitar and Larson’s
lovely vocals – giving the entire 10-minute minute song a stately, almost
antebellum vibe. Ironically, though, it’s Dreamin’ Man‘s final cut, “War
of Man,” that provides the aesthetic and stylistic link with Harvest Moon.
For while both are totally different arrangement-wise (the studio version was a
kind of sturdy folk-rocker with prominent bass and a luminous pedal steel
figure), the tune’s indelible melody and soaring chorus – not to mention Young’s
deft, demonstrative picking, which powers both arrangements – makes it one of
the most recognizable, and lasting, compositions in the songwriter’s entire
catalog.

 

Call Harvest
Moon
and Dreamin’ Man close siblings, then, separated by a temporal
gulf of nearly two decades, but finally reunited and spiritual complements to
each another – which is, one hopes, as siblings should be.

 

Standout Tracks: “War of Man,” “Natural Beauty,” “You and Me”
FRED MILLS

 

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