When Neil Young announced the release of Young Shakespeare as Disc 3.5 of the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, many wondered, “Why another solo acoustic show?” Since the archival series began in 2006, Young has released six solo acoustic concert albums, three of which chronicled performances from 1970-1971; Young Shakespeare was recorded in that time frame, on January 22, 1971, at Stratford, Connecticut’s Shakespeare Theatre. While the venue sadly burned to the ground in January 2019, the concert recorded there 48 years earlier has survived to see release. Young took the stage in Stratford just three days after playing a celebrated gig at Toronto’s Massey Hall. That show was released on CD/DVD in 2007 and utilized pieces of the Connecticut footage. But Young Shakespeare has a certain special quality, with Neil delivering a faultless selection of songs that would go on to be timeless, all while demonstrating what makes him such a captivating artist. It’s also the earliest known film of solo Neil live.
The album and film are available in a variety of formats – CD, LP, and DVD (through Young’s online shop), and a box set bundling all the formats. Plus, the Neil Young Archives website offers the album to stream in high-resolution. No matter how you choose to listen, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this portrait of the artist as a Young man.
The Stratford show took place just two months after Young released his solo breakthrough After the Gold Rush and as he was readying the career-redefining Harvest. Alone on guitar or piano, he performed a slew of tracks from both projects. The Gold Rush opener “Tell Me Why” led to a pair of then-unreleased Harvest selections which would become future rock standards, “Old Man” and “Needle and the Damage Done.” Each performance has that certain mystical intensity we’ve since come to expect from Neil Young. He also tackled a number of older favorites, including incendiary renditions of “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River” from 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and the recent CSNY cut “Ohio.”
A focused, passionate Young didn’t let it get the audience down too much. He also performed “Dance Dance Dance,” a jaunty tune (not the Beach Boys’ song) meant “to make you stamp your feet and bang your hands.” Along the way, he told stories and joked with the audience, most memorably before a sing-along of “Sugar Mountain.” “It worked last night,” he said with a smile. “If you don’t know the words, well, you’re all university students, so memorize them the first time.”
Fifty years on, we can be thankful this footage still exists. As it happens, some tracks were shown on Swing In, the European music documentary program, but now the concert footage and sonics have been revisited and improved. The video is presented in standard definition with a 4:3 ratio.
The Plangent Processing on the master audio tapes mean the music sounds better than ever; Young states that the source is a 192/24 digital transfer of the original tapes. The film is finally sequenced as a concert document in the order it was played (though, sadly, not every song performed that night at the Shakespeare Theatre is represented on the release). And while the viewers might pine for that original documentary footage, what we get in its place is vastly improved in quality over the dodgy concert tapes traded before.
The individual CD is housed in a digipak in the style of Young’s previous Archive releases. The combination CD/LP/DVD box is packaged simply. A tray within the LP-sized box contains the three formats (the DVD is Region 0 and playable everywhere), each wrapped in identical artwork. There are no liner notes to be found.
Surely more Neil Young Archives shows will arrive soon; Young Shakespeare itself arrived hot on the heels of the Crazy Horse show Way Down in the Rust Bucket. But future releases will have a tough act to follow as this one captures the purest form of the young, hungry singer-songwriter’s art. It’s a journey through the past well worth taking.
Young Shakespeare is available now wherever music is sold. You can find order links for your preferred configurations below!
Neil Young, Young Shakespeare (Reprise, 2021)
CD/DVD/LP box: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Your Local Record Shop / Greedy Hand
CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Your Local Record Shop / Greedy Hand
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Your Local Record Shop / Greedy Hand
DVD: Greedy Hand
Digital: Neil Young Archives (Streaming) / XStream (Digital Download) / Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
- Tell Me Why
- Old Man
- The Needle and the Damage Done
- Dance Dance Dance
- Cowgirl in the Sand
- A Man Needs a Maid/Heart Of Gold
- Journey Through the Past
- Don’t Let It Bring You Down
- Down by the River
- Sugar Mountain