Catalyst 1996 (Stringman Record CDR SR-006-007)
The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, California, USA. May 8th 1996
Disk 1 : Country Home / Stupid Girl / Bite The Bullet / Drive Back / The Losing End / Dangerbird / Barstool Blues / Homegrown. ( 67:38 )
Disk 2 : Like A Hurricane / Pocahontas / Roll Another Number / When The Lonely Heart Breaks / Down By The River / Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Fresh from the sessions for ‘Broken Arrow’, Young’s second reconciliation album with Crazy Horse, the follow up to the ‘Sleeps With Angels’ album Neil Young took the band out on tour for a series of secret club tours as a warm up to the main tour. Stringman are offering this show up as part of their range of Neil Young releases – The CDs that launched their label. The show itself is littered with a lot of
pre – 90’s songs – the closest to this era being songs from Neil & Crazy Horse’s album “Life” from nigh on a decade ago thus pretty much ignoring the albums that Neil has worked on afterwards & it also features a very heavily “Zuma” balanced bent too. It has a very dry & heavy feel. A very ‘down’ approach to the gig much like the period of “Tonight’s The Night” when Neil was feeling the loss of his ego & had to persevere the loss of some of his friends. Neil isn’t very chatty tonight either – The intro to “Country Home” extends to over two whole minutes before he begins to sing – and he won’t say much between the tracks either possibly deciding that he’ll just make the music take the strain.
From this excellent audience tape ( Over two hours long! ) it seems to do just that too – There is enough audience interaction to keep things atmospheric & the sound is good & solid ( Nothing a little EQ-ing of the bass won’t fix. ) The strangest thing about the tape is after “Drive Back” the band take a short break. Rather than cutting out the time spent off stage the taper & Stringman decide to leave the tape rolling capturing the music that acts as a bed for the interval & an unsuspecting friends conversation ( Apparently the male friend is working tomorrow at 11 but is up for a late night .. )
The band return with a lethargic “The Losing End” – The break was obviously not for rejuvenating themselves & they plod throughout the song. “Dangerbird” pretty much does the same thing & sticks around the safe riff for over 11 minutes.
“Barstool Blues” is a fairly upbeat proposition after the previous two – The lyrics hardly a positive message but at least the music that surrounds it is a little more buoyant. It finishes with a jammed & circular riff to which some of the audience chant along to – the repetition taking on a shamanic feel. Disk two presents us with a ‘greatest hits’ set of sorts beginning with a rumbling & crushing “Like A Hurricane” – Neil throws out a few squeaking solos before singing along with the riff & then, again, easing us through a heavy, long coda.
“Roll Another Number” is one of the most straightforward tracks of the night. At a brief four & a half minutes long, the country style shows no sign of racing off to a tangent or turning in to a cataclysmic monster. Neither does “As Your Lonely Heart Breaks” but this does continue with the unsettling feeling of the night & the darkness that seeps through the set. It does however wrong foot the audience as Neil peels out a “Down By The River” lick before changing his mind & playing around before settling in to the track.
The monolith eventually rears it’s head though & we’re lead through an astounding 23 minute version of the track. The pace continues to ache though & it is a maudlin & brooding pass at the track. It’s hard to listen to for it’s full duration too as the bitterness & mood is all encompassing. As rough, rugged & Youngian as it might be it’s pain is worn on it’s sleeve & it’s a difficult diversion. To end the set we’re given a blast of “Prisoners Of Rock ‘n’ Roll” – A much more giddying & upbeat track to end on.
The glossy guitar work positively lifts the from the rest of the show & turns around the gloomy, deathlessness of the rest of the set. The CD is a very good companion to the official “Year of The Horse” release & also Dandelion’s excellent “The Year After The Horse” [ DL 098 ] although the gloomy sound of the set is a lot to endure for a solid couple of hours.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)