Neil Young – Birmingham Vacation (Polar Bear PB-009-010)


Birmingham Vacation
(Polar Bear PB-009-010)

National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, England – June 2nd, 1987

Disc 1 (65:08):  Mr. Soul, Cinnamon Girl, When You Dance I Can Really Love, Down By The River, Heart Of Gold, See The Sky About To Rain, Too Lonely, When Your Lonely Heart Breaks, Drive Back, Opera Star, Cortez The Killer

Disc 2 (57:04):  Sugar Mountain, American Dream, Mideast Vacation, Long Walk Home, Powderfinger, Like A Hurricane, Tonight’s The Night

Neil Young followed up the disappointing Landing On Water in 1986 by touring the US with Crazy Horse for the first time in eight years, recording Life in November, and then touring Europe with the band in the summer of 1987.  The June 2nd show in Birmingham is the first UK date and was followed by two in London and one in Dublin before taking a break.  

Birmingham Vacation features an excellent, well balanced stereo soundboard recording.  The tape is cut at the very beginning and by the end of “Drive Back,” cut at the end of “Powderfinger,” and the second encore “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” is missing from this recording.  It is the only blemish on what is otherwise an excellent overall production by Polar Bear, one of the more underrated labels from the late nineties.  

The opening salvo shows Neil Young & Crazy Horse mean business with a very aggressive and spirited performance.  They open with the old Buffalo Springfield song “Mr. Soul” followed by “Cinnamon Girl” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love” from After The Gold Rush, added to the set for the first time on this tour since the Rust Never Sleeps era.  

“Down By The River” recalls the feedback laden jams of the early seventies, and only afterwards does Young even acknowledge the audience.  He warms up for a two song solo interlude.  “Heart Of Gold” is played with a unique acoustic guitar and harmonica introduction, a somber little melody leading into the famous piece.  

He moves over to the piano for “See The Sky About To Rain,” a relative rarity first performed in 1971, released in 1974 on On The Beach and included in these European dates.  

Crazy Horse return to the stage for two songs from the new album Life, “Too Lonely” and “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks.”  Both of these tunes show the strength of the new material compared to the previous album although the former wouldn’t be played live after this tour and the latter would have a brief revival a decade later only to disappear again.  

“Opera Star” is another rarity dusted off for this tour.  The opening track from RE*ACT*OR was only ever played one more time after these dates.  The clumsiness of the melody fails to impress the audience and it whizzes by without much effect.  But “Cortez The Killer” is a piece that captures their imaginations and the band pull off a great performance.  

Young returns for another two song acoustic interlude beginning with the placid “Sugar Mountain.”  He follows with an acoustic performance of “American Dream.”  Purely a Young composition, it would be recorded with CSNY in 1988 and lead off their album American Dream along with a high concept video.

The band returns for “Mideast Vacation,” the opening song off of Life and follow that with “Long Walk Home” featuring Young at piano (and with “Oh, Susanna” as an introduction).  The main set ends with two big numbers, “Powderfinger” and a fifteen minute “Like A Hurricane.”  The first encore is “Tonight’s The Night” which recalls the long and wired versions of the 1973 Stray Gators jams.  

Birmingham Vacation is an older release, coming out in 2002, and is very good except for the missing encore.  Otherwise it has excellent sound and has a great performance with several rarities thrown.  

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