Thursday, March 4, 2021

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - re-act-or
and what I wrote at Allmusic

Neil Young & Crazy Horse -re-act-or
So, almost a week ago, Neil Young released another live album in what has become a most remarkable Archive Series. This one was called Way Down in the Rust Bucket, and I haven't bought them all, or even heard them all, but it's safe to say I was all over this one. I had my copy on the morning of the 27th.

The set was recorded in Santa Cruz, California, late in 1990, chronicling a gig which served as a warm up for the legendary Arc/Weld-Gulf War arena tour the following year. But as interesting as even *that* is, what really piqued my interest in acquiring the double CD (if not the deluxe set with the DVD) was the inclusion of two songs from re-act-or, which I have long felt is Young's most underappreciated work.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Way Down in the Rust Bucket

And there's a great version of "Farmer John" and a very good one of "Bite the Bullet" from American Stars and Bars, but if I was looking for versions of "Surfer Joe" and "T-Bone" that reflected the way they were played on re-act-or, well, it wasn't happening. What a strange version of "Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze" we get! Neil nicks a few notes from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and plays a grand interpretative overture, as if Surfer Joe was some Mexican emperor, or Moe the Sleeze a great lost love. And then they play the song at half speed . . . .

And "T-Bone," it doesn't have horns, but it's definitely the Bluenotes arrangement.

Listen, it's all grist for the mill. Almost everything Neil does is at the least interesting, and these two songs from re-act-or are definitely that.

But I have to admit I've been thinking of the power and the speed of that album since I gave Rust Bucket its three requisite drivetime spins.

So much so that I found myself on Allmusic today, reading user reviews for re-act-or. The thing was, even the people who liked it were damning it with faint praise! "Lightweight" said a guy who gave it 4-1/2 stars. Well, first off, it's five stars, so then I left this review:

Garfong reference aside, if On the Beach was honey sliders, and Tonight's the Night was tequila, then re-ac-tor is pure uncut crank. It's easily Young's fastest album, his most furious, probably his heaviest, and it recasts Crazy Horse as three guys gobbling speed just trying to keep up with their maniac boss.

I've read where Neil was supposedly mentally absent for these songs, being preoccupied with his son, but have the people who wrote that stuff actually listened? If you choose not to see the lyrics to "T-Bone" as the zen koan for the chronically shortchanged that it is, and if you want to say "Rapid Transit" is aping the Talking Heads of all people, well, good for you, hope it gets you through the night. But Young is *not* absent:, he's as in-your-face as he's ever been.

Young clearly hadn't gotten all the Johnny Rotten out of his system with Rust Never Sleeps (after all, the punk rock there was only on the second side). It's fair to say that re-act-or emptied the cistern. When Young returned with the Horse again, there'd be a swinging laid back character to the roar that they've retained to this day.

Ol' Neil's interesting even when gets it wrong, keep in mind, but when they played "T-Bone" and "Surfer Joe" at the Catalyst in 1990, the songs practically bore no relation: the speed and the fury that re-act-or had was gone. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it helps you realize: re-act-or is a unique document of a band in a place it went to precisely one and a half times.